movie review: the glenn miller story

Glenn Miller is playing his terrific big band hits again in this stunning musical biography. The great Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson star in this vibrant tribute to one of America’s legendary bandleaders, charting Miller’s rise from obscurity and poverty to fame and wealth in the early 1940s.

The wonderful score swings with the original Miller music performed by the Glenn Miller Orchestra and such musical giants as Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Frances Langford and The Modernaires. Rounding out the great cast are such favorites as Henry Morgan (M*A*S*H), Charles Drake and George Tobias.

Tastefully directed by Anthony Mann, Glenn Miller’s dynamic sound comes alive once more.


I discovered Glenn Miller because of three things: Jack Cavanaugh, Combat!, and James Stewart.

In Dear Enemy, one of JC’s two books set in WWII, the main character – an army nurse – is looking forward to a USO party where Glenn Miller will be performing, and when she gets word that he’s gone MIA, she starts crying.  Since I cared about the character, that made an impression on me.  Then, I was watching “Glow Against The Sky”, a Combat! episode, and Billy (one of my favorite characters), mentioned Glenn Miller in his delirious ravings (you don’t want to know, trust me).  And THEN I was browsing Pinterest when I discovered that James Stewart had starred in a movie about Glenn Miller’s life.  Since James Stewart is one of favorite actors ever, that was the last little push I needed to start listening to GM music.

I didn’t ‘get’ it at first.  I didn’t know that Glenn Miller did arrangements, rather than actual, vocalized songs, so the first time I listened to one of his albums that I’d borrowed from the library, I was dissatisfied.  The songs were mainly instrumental and I didn’t know the songs to begin with, so they made little impression on me.  What was all the 40’s hype about?  But I’d already put a hold on The Glenn Miller Story, and since James Stewart was in it, I figured I might as well give it a whirl.  Once I did, I understood everything so much better.  It wasn’t so much the lyrics of the different songs that mattered, as how they were played (at least when it came to Glenn Miller music).  And it was good.  Now I listen to his arrangements all. the. time.

Love this film! ("The Glenn Miller Story")

But, anyway, with all that background stuff out of the way, on to the actual film review!

The story shows Glenn Miller’s rise to fame quite simply, often punctuated with the playing of his most iconic musical pieces (one of my favorite things about the film).  It’s a comfortable old movie, one that you can relax with and just let the story play out without worrying about tense action sequences or a complicated plot.  There’s still emotional depth, though, as those who’ve cried at the ending (like me) can attest to.

I’ve always liked James Stewart in whatever role he plays, and I really liked him in TGMS.  He looks vaguely like the real Glenn Miller in most of the later scenes, which is nice, and there’s just something about the way he talks and acts and just…he was great for the part (just like every other role I’ve seen him in).  TGMS was the first film I’d seen June Allyson in, and she did a wonderful job too.  I like films where the main character is married (happily), because there’s something beautiful about married love.  (And I’m lucky enough to see it in my parents every single day.)  Helen Miller was a great support to Glenn, and that was portrayed very well in TGMS.  Oh, and then there’s my sister’s (and my) favorite character – Chummy, played by Harry Morgan.  He plays the piano fantastically, has a penchant for buying new cars and honking their horns all the time (although he’s not afraid to sell said cars if his friends need the money), and is always there when he’s needed.  He’s a great friend to Glenn and I love him.

And then, of course, the music.

The Glenn Miller Story was really my introduction to the music, and I enjoyed it much better that way than the album from the library – however, once I watched it, I picked up that album again and enjoyed the songs much more for two reasons: I understood that they were arrangements, and I now had specific movie memories to associate with the different numbers.  Which made them more interesting and more emotional.  Now I just listen to the songs because I love them of their own accord, but I’ll be forever grateful to TGMS for making me appreciate them in the first place.

Between my first viewing of TGMS and the re-watch (just a couple of days ago), my favorite arrangement turned out to be “American Patrol”, which I don’t think is as well known as some of the others like “In The Mood” or “Little Brown Jug” (I love both of those too; I really love them all, truth be told), so I was hoping that it would be included – in some capacity – in the film.  So I waited, and waited, and waited…and then they used it as a backdrop to footage of D-Day which was perfect and awesome and I’M SO HAPPY THAT THEY DID THAT.  But I digress.  The other songs are excellent as well, and the echoes of “Little Brown Jug” throughout the whole thing made me tearful.  I’ve listened to other versions of “In The Mood”, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, and other songs that Glenn Miller did arrangements for, and I have to say that, on the whole, I prefer his versions.  More upbeat.  Crisper, in a way.

Have you seen The Glenn Miller Story?  What’s your favorite of his arrangements?



6 thoughts on “movie review: the glenn miller story

  1. That’s funny that Harry Morgan is in this; one of his very first film roles was a small part in Orchestra Wives with the real Glenn Miller Orchestra! I haven’t seen this movie, though I do listen to Glenn Miller all the time…I think I told you about a few of my favorite songs in a comment on another post?


  2. It’s been a long time since I watched this, so maybe I’ll find time for it sometime in the near future. Definitely one of my favorite Jimmy Stewart roles! I remember watching this for the first time, not knowing how it was going to end because I didn’t know anything about Glenn Miller other than that I (and Billy Nelson) liked his music. I was so shocked by it! Such a beautiful movie, though.


  3. I need to watch this! I love Glenn Miller music because it’s so happy! Recently I watched The Five Pennies starring Danny Kaye. Glenn Miller is in the band. (Not the real Glenn Miller) And yes, Jimmy Stewart is amazing!


  4. Oh I LOVE this movie! I think I had heard vaguely of Glenn Miller before, but then I watched this and I fell in love with his music-and his story! The movie brings me to happy tears at some points (like when he “gets” the sound!) and sad tears at the end, of course. 😦
    I was so excited because right after watching this movie for the first time, I found a Glenn Miller/Andrews Sisters CD at a garage sale-for free!!! That was an amazing find! 😉
    My favorite of his arrangements might just be In the Mood, but it’s so hard to choose just one!


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