Glenn Miller Story, The (1954): Anthony Mann’s Oscar-Nominated Biopic, Starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson at their Best

Anthony Mann’s superlative “The Glenn Miller Story” is at least two notches above the standard Hollywood music biopics.

When the movie was released, in February 1954, Newsweek wrote: “Universal would seem to have gotten over its primary hazard by casting James Stewart as Miller. If any Hollywood star can simulate Miller’s modest demeanor, Stewart, while not looking particularly like the maestro, is the man.”

The film is intelligently and meticulously directed by Mann who, next to Capra and Hitchcock, was the most influential director in shaping Stewart’s career.

And, indeed, as America’s most popular bandleader, who created a new sound in music and tragically died at the height of his popularity, Jimmy Stewart shines. Sporting glasses, as the scholarly looking musician, Stewart brings his customary clarity and shy good humor to the part.

Glenn Miller always had a consuming ambition to play the trombone and score music. He meets his future wife Helen (June Allyson) at the University of Colorado, and his sincerity and humility win her over.

Miller later gets a job with the band of Ben Pollock (played by the real-life Pollock), and later works with a Broadway pit crew. He spends his wedding night at a Harlem jazz session with Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, and others.

Taking lessons in musical theory, Miller finds a friend in a Boston dance-hall operator Si Schribman (George Tobias). He eventually becomes the recognized “king of dance bands.”

Serendipity also plays a role in his musical evolution. Miller refines his art form, stumbling upon his signature sound when his trumpet player splits his lip, forcing the clarinetist to play lead on “Moonlight Seerenade.”

When WWII breaks out, Miller enlists in the Army and revolutionizes Army band music with his swinging versions. In December 1944, in a wartime English Channel flight to prepare for a Paris concert for the troops, Miller’s plane disappeared.
However, his legacy continued for generationsto this day, in fact. Miller left his mark in the memories of music fans like no other bandleader. The music is, of course, glorious, including all the famous Miller tunes, including “In the Mood,” Tuxedo Junction,” and Little Brown Jug.”

Always touching and emotionally involving, occasionally “Glenn Miller” gets too sentimental, particularly in the domestic scenes of Stewart and June Allyson. In preparation for the role, Stewart learned how to play the trombone, but the actual playing was done by the pros Murray MacEachern and Joe Yuki.

An endnote informing the audience that Tex Beneke, known as the “boy singer” for Miller’s band, who went o to lead the band after his mentor’s death, would be useful.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 3

Story and Screenplay: Valentine Davies and Oscar Brodney
Scoring of a Musical Picture: Joseph Gershenson and Henry Mancini
Sound Recording: Leslie I. Carey

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context:

In 1954, the Story and Screenplay Oscar went to Budd Schulberg for “On the Waterfront,” and the Scoring Oscar to Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chaplin for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”