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Orchestra Wives

05 Nov

Orchestra Wives – directed by Achie Mayo. Back Bandstand Musical. 98 minutes Black And White 1942.

★★★★

The Story: A young woman marries a trumpet player with a touring band and lasts.

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If you want to see The Glenn Miller Band in full force in one of the two movies Miller made before he died in WWII, here you have it and him. He’s a good actor, and the band is allowed to play their full versions of big hits such as “I’ve Got A Gal In Kalamazoo.” This is the grand finale, and it’s placed there because it is performed by a dance act which no other act ever could follow. That is to say, of course, that is danced by the Nicholas Brothers. Ann Rutherford, into her nineties, reminisces about the shooting of this sequence. She says you could not fit a sardine into the sound stage when they shot it; everyone on the lot came to watch. Fayard Nicholas tells how Daryl F. Zanuck would come down and watch rehearsals, and how Fayard was worried to show him an unfinished piece, but Zanuck said he wasn’t concerned because The Nicholas Brothers always did good work for him.

They sure do it here. And The Fox Contract Player Treasure Chest is opened up to reveal the presence of Gale Evans, Harry Morgan, and Jackie Gleason – none of them even credited, for some reason. Another group of contract players just above them at the time, Mary Beth Hughes, Virginia Gilmore, and Carole Landis play bitches, opposite the super bitch Lynn Bari. Cesar Romero in impeccable suits plays the smarmy but ever-affable piano player of the band chased by alimony-hungry wives, and that excellent actor Grant Mitchell plays the father of the heroine of the tale.

She falls under the spell of the trumpet playing and gorgeous masculinity of George Montgomery. He had a face, unlike Carole Landis’; his is filmable at any angle and in any light. To humanize his looks, they do have a character eccentricity to them, and he does not look well in hats.

Opposite him and playing the leading role is Ann Rutherford. She is not an actor who can carry a film any further than apple pie can carry a banquet. She plays her attraction to Montgomery as a form of coma. The sexual eagerness which all the other orchestra wives have for him is circumcised from her performance, and so the film sags when her character lies in the accustomed comforts of such a film.

But the film comes back to full life when the songs by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon are sung. They are wonderful songs: “Serenade In Blue,” “People Like You And Me,” “Bugle Call Rag,” and the really great, “At Last.” These are sung by the stars of the Miller band, Ray Eberle and the saxophonist Tex Beneke, The Mondernaires, and Marion Hutton, who looks so much like her sister Betty Hutton, you’d find it distracting were she not so good. If all this is not sufficient, adding one more notch to your collection of the Nicholas Brothers’ film work will be.

 
 
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