The Glenn Miller Story (1954)
In his long and illustrious career, screen legend James Stewart enjoyed many successful collaborations with film directors, including Frank Capra, John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. Yet his most productive partnership, if only in terms of number, was with Anthony Mann. Best remembered today for such films as Winchester '73 (1950), Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Far Country (1954) and The Man from Laramie (1955), the pair’s most successful effort together was also their most atypical.
Whereas their 'psychological westerns' helped redefine the genre, The Glenn Miller Story conforms to the standard tropes of a biopic. A struggling musician is supported by an understanding wife in his quest for an elusive sound that, once realised, will bring them fame and fortune. Yet within such strictures, Mann successfully fashioned a supremely entertaining film in which Miller's greatest hits are cleverly woven into the storyline.
Eschewing the inner torment of many of his 1950’s characterisations, Stewart returns to the endearing wide-eyed optimism of his earlier portrayals to present a bandleader brimming with good cheer. Adding to the general light-heartedness of the piece is a cast of familiar character actors revelling in their roles and a collection of cameos lending some authenticity to proceedings. Should any gloom threaten to darken the mood it is quickly shut down by a radiant June Allyson.
Which makes the film’s closing moments all the more heart-breaking. Having previously partnered for the biopic The Stratton Story (1949), Stewart and Allyson share an on-screen chemistry that convincingly conveys the couple’s love for each other. Their last film together would be the following year’s Strategic Air Command (1955), also directed by Anthony Mann.
Miller’s version of “The Little Brown Jug” is presented as being aired for the first time at Christmas 1944, as a gift from the musician to his wife. It was in fact released in 1939, and was one of Miller’s first hits.
“That was no more ‘The Glenn Miller Story’ than ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’”
No scene recreations from Miller’s two films. However, biopic depicts a fictional scene of Glenn Miller and his band performing ‘Tuxedo Junction’ for a musical number that looks like it could have come out of Sun Valley Serenade (1941) – it didn’t.