New Old Film Review: The Glenn Miller Story (1954)

Glenn Miller and my dad taught me a lesson: It’s not just talent that makes inspirational music – it’s love.

Many of Jimmy Stewart’s movies are widely known and loved for many good reasons. For millions of people, it’s a wonderful life, Mr. Smith goes to Washington And the Harvey Watch favourites. But there’s another Jimmy Stewart movie you might have missed. It is a rags-to-riches musical called The story of Glenn Miller.

When the movie starts, we see Glenn buy back his trombone from the pawn shop, and we get the idea that he’s bumped it a few times before. Glenn is a trombonist by profession, but aspires to become a successful music arranger. The problem is, no one else – not even his closest friends – seems to believe in his dream.

We also learn that Glenn has a love interest in Denver named Helen Burger. On their first date in two years, Glenn makes it clear to Helen that he wants to find the “right voice” for his arrangements. Helen is a believer in a world of skeptics: she is sure he will find the voice.

Another two years pass, during which Glenn struggles – working on arrangements by day, playing trombone at night to pay the bills. Glenn calls Helen, and they soon decide to get married. But with his new responsibilities as a husband, Glenn settled into a professional trombone career, choosing to have a steady income over pursuing his bigger ambitions. He didn’t even talk about his dream anymore.

But Helen noticed. She challenges him, “Did you know the whole time we were married you never said that sound? Truth be told, Glenn, I was kind of disappointed. … I just want you to keep trying.”

Glenn reminds her that pursuing this voice will be costly – financial and otherwise. But she believes in him and urges him to keep going. For her, this is much more important than money or belongings. Glenn agrees and goes back to work as an arranger, eventually starting his own band.

Although more difficulties, tragedies, and obstacles arose, Glenn found this “voice” almost incidental. And Helen knows he found out: “There isn’t Can About that,” she assures her friend, “that’s the sound!” Suddenly, all of America is listening and dancing, and couples are falling in love Moonlight serenade.

After Glenn’s band has achieved fame, World War II comes, and Glenn notices that the young men who loved his music are now far from home fighting a war. But when the soldiers could not get home, Miller sent the soldiers home. Miller enlists in the Army and plays for the American Overseas Champions.

I don’t want to give away more of the story, especially if readers are not familiar with Miller’s biography. Suffice it to say that this is a story of perseverance, friendship and courage.

Perseverance is a type of virtue that can be loaned, that can be borrowed, explains Helen Miller. Sometimes, you have to believe in someone in order for them to be ready to believe in themselves. It has been noted that “a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it to you when you’ve forgotten the words”. When that guy’s girlfriend is his wife… well, some pretty amazing things can happen.

Growing up, I watched this movie many times with my dad, who was a trombonist, music composer, and war veteran. On the nights when he would play the piano for his family – which was often the case – he would enjoy singing a song he had composed for his bride during their engagement. He had arranged it decades before, but he sang it as if he had written it that morning.

Glenn Miller and my dad taught me a lesson: It’s not just talent that produces inspirational music – it is the love.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, many families will be looking for movies to enjoy together. Consider this Jimmy Stewart classic. It will bring back some sweet memories for grandparents and create new memories for kids. As Boethius noted, “No age is ever excluded from the magic of sweet song.”


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