The Glenn Miller Story
This and Old Yeller are the earliest films I remember seeing. I was seven, and my family lived in Fort Worth, Texas. We often went to the drive-in theater, with my younger sisters. We would dress in pajamas and play on the swings and slides up near the screen until it got dark, then it was back in the old Hudson with a coil of Pic burning on the floorboard and a big brown grocery sack full of popcorn. (We never paid snack bar prices.) My sisters would soon be asleep, but I would have my elbows resting on the seatback in front of me and take in the movies. I’ve been a film buff ever since.
Oddly, both of these early films were traumatic. When Tommy had to shoot Yeller because he had become rabid, I was stunned and I probably cried, though I can’t recall. And I was unprepared for Miller to fly off in that UC-64 Norseman in England and vanish. Mom and Dad were prepared for it, of course, but I wasn’t. (The plane and his body have never been found.) They cut from Jimmy Stewart getting on the plane directly back to June Allyson looking somber and listening to Little Brown Jug, back in the US. (I had a serious crush on June Allyson, I don’t know why. In retrospect, I might have thought she was married to Jimmy Stewart, as they were husband and wife again in Strategic Air Command the next year.) (That’s another movie I remember. It features the crash of a gigantic Convair B-36. At that time, my dad worked for Convair, building B-36 “Peacemakers.” We lived near enough to Carswell AFB that I could see—and hear!—them lumber into the sky.)
This is almost like two movies. The first half is your standard Hollywood biopic, ripe with every bullshit cliché you have seen a million times before. Such as, Glenn won’t take no for an answer when courting Helen. Then he is seeking his “sound,” unsuccessfully, and you just know he will stumble on it accidentally. In this case it is a trumpet player with a split lip, forcing him to substitute a clarinet … and that’s it! Eureka, I have found it! And it’s all roses from there. The only thing to recommend that part is appearances by Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa. But the second part makes it all worthwhile. There really isn’t any plot anymore, but who cares? It’s all Glenn Miller swing arrangements, all of which I know by heart.
The filmmakers missed a great opportunity, though. When Miller joins the Air Force he arranges marches like “American Patrol” with a swing. He is getting dressed down when he is saved by the arrival of Hap Arnold, the five-star general in charge of the Air Force, who says he likes the new stuff. According to Wiki what actually happened was the stuffed shirt colonel said that Sousa marches were good enough for World War I, and the same marches were good enough today. To which Miller replied “Are you still flying the same planes?”