James Stewart is Alton Glenn Miller in this biopic that, like most biopics, plays with history. That doesn’t take away from the Miller story or the Miller music. Musicians appearing as themselves include Gene Krupa, Louis Armstrong, Barney Bigard, Babe Russin, Trummy Young, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole and drummer- bandleader Ben Pollack. Pollack and Krupa would show up two years later in “The Benny Goodman Story.” Due to problems with the Miller estate, Tex Beneke not only doesn’t appear but doesn’t even get a mention. Henry Mancini did arrangements as he would in 1956 for “The Benny Goodman Story.”
Glenn is back at the pawn shop run by Mr.Kranz (Sig Ruman) to get his trombone out of hock. He sees a string of fake pearls he wants to get his girlfriend Helen but they’re too costly for now. His piano playing pal Chummy (Harry Morgan) takes them to their next job. It’s with a Mickey Mouse band and Glenn brings his arrangement of “I Dreamt I Dwelt In Marble Halls.” So much for that job.
He and Chummy get an audition with Ben Pollack. He tells Glenn he’s not interested in arrangements but he’ll look them over later. Glenn leaves and a clarinetist is ready to audition. Chummy quickly gives him one of Glenn’s arrangements. Glenn hears it, goes back in and he’s hired.
The band goes to Denver where Glenn calls Helen (June Allyson). She hasn’t seen him in two years but that doesn’t stop him from saying he’ll drop by her house after work. He doesn’t tell her that means three am. The next day they go to the university and hear the glee club singing “Little Brown Jug”, not one of Glenn’s favorites. It is one of hers.
The band goes to New York. Two years go by and Glenn wants to form his own band with his own sound. He just doesn’t know what that is yet. He quits to study arranging. Walking past a record store he hears “Little Brown Jug.” He calls Helen and tells her to come to New York and they’ll get married. He can be reached at Pennsylvania 6-5000. She hops a train and they get hitched.
On their honeymoon night he takes her and a small group to Harlem and Connie’s Inn to hear Louis Armstrong. This is the movie’s first musical highlight. Louis invited Babe Russin and Gene Krupa and then Glenn onstage to jam with the All Stars. He admits later to Helen that when it comes to Jazz he can’t compete with them.
He gets a job in a Red Nichols pit band that also has Benny Goodman for the show “Girl Crazy.” He’s not happy with the music but it’s a steady income. Helen persuades him to go back to studying arranging. He works out “Moonlight Serenade.” When the song is turned into an uptempo nightclub song he feels it’s destroyed and doesn’t want anything more to do with it.
Glenn gets a band together and they finally get a job in Boston. On the way the car breaks down in a snowstorm and he loses the gig. When he finally gets there Helen is in the hospital with a miscarriage. The owner of the State Ballroom, Sy Schribman (George Tobias) visits her in the hospital and apologizes for the cancellation.
Glenn wants to hire a new, large band and Sy backs him. Just before opening night the trumpet player cuts his lip. Glenn spends all night rewriting the arrangements for a clarinet lead. Now he has the sound he wants and the band is a huge success.
Some years go by and it’s Glenn and Helen’s tenth anniversary. Glenn has conquered radio, records and now he’s making movies. He’s got a big all paid for house and they’ve adopted two kids. He gives Helen a little brown jug. At the movie studio after cutting “Tuxedo Junction” Helen brings the mail. He gets his commissi0n into the army and he’ll be a Captain.
Glenn is tired of leading the army band in the usual martial tunes that have been around for a hundred years. One day when there’s a parade in front of General Arnold (Barton MacLane) he runs onto the parade ground and leads the band in a swing march version of “Frankie And Johnny.”
Colonel Spaulding calls him on the carpet. General Arnold comes in and congratulates Glenn, makes him bandleader and he’s off to London. The Army Air Force Band is a big hit. Francis Langford and The Modernaires do “Chatanooga Choo Choo.” The band also plays “In The Mood” while air raid sirens go off and a German plane drops a bomb. Glenn writes Helen that the band will be in Paris for a Christmas broadcast. She’ll be listening along with the kids and Chummy. It doesn’t work out as planned.
Most of the Miller hits are played and fans will like this movie. It takes a while or the music to kick in but it’s worth the wait.
George Tobias is known to sitcom fans as Abner Kravitz in “Bewitched” (1964-71).