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    The Glenn Miller Story
    /Universal . R4 . COLOR . 108 mins . G . PAL

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    The Glenn Miller Story purports to be the story of one of the great swing-band leaders of the mid-1930s to early 1940s, Glenn Miller.

    He led one of America's most popular swing bands of all -- though personally I always preferred the much hotter, jazz-oriented sound of Tommy Dorsey.

    His band was America's most popular swing outfit, peaking between early 1939 and 1942. Then, at the height of his popularity he enlised in the US Airforce, and quit America to form a morale-boosting 'military' swing-band in wartime-Britain. And in 1944, towards the end of that Second World War, Major Miller left on a flight across the English Channel to prepare for performances in Paris. His aeroplane disappeared, never to be found.

    Good points in this movie include the immaculate performance of Jimmy Stewart as Glenn Miller. Fictionalised or not, Stewart does become a Glenn Miller we can believe in - in much the same way that Stewart became the ideal Lindbergh in The Spirit of St Louis. I think with Jimmy Stewart we want to believe in his characters, because the innate decency of the man himself shines through all his roles.

    Also notable are the appearances as themselves of jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa. The musical numbers featuring these two, brief though they are, are the highlights of the movie -- those numbers, plus the shining moment when the Glenn Miller Orchestra finally achieves the magical 'sound' for which Glenn has been seeking so long.

    But these assets are forgotten as Hollywood concocts a preposterous love-story of Glenn and girl-back-home sweetheart Helen Berger, played by the simpering, anodyne June Allyson, an actress who manages to give the impression her legs are firmly stapled together.

    With her smarming around, the good stuff in the movie is diluted with saccharine schmalz to a sickening degree -- and believe me, sugar-substitutes and chicken-fat don't mix.

    This nauseating concoction is further worsened by the addition to the cast of Henry Morgan as Glenn's best friend and band pianist Chummy McGregor. He later changed his name to Harry Morgan and became the second Colonel in the television version of M.A.S.H. If you thought he was crook in M.A.S.H, you should see him here!

    For the sake of the good bits I stuck with this one almost to the end. I had to fast-forward the final five minutes -- those of you who know the movie will understand why. There's only so much a sane man can take. Still, I'm glad to have this, partly for the music and partly for the always strong Jimmy Stewart.

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    Contract

    This movie was made in 1953, the first year of Cinemascope.

    This is an anamorphic widescreen presentation, and looks to be around 1,78. Strangely, the IMDB site states that the original ratio was 1,37. I'd appreciate some info if anyone out there knows what the correct ratio is, and its projection history. Was it filmed in 1,37 and quickly reformatted via a soft-matte to take advantage of the new widescreen boom?

    Ratio apart, the movie has quite a deal of grain, but for its age shows very decent colour and very little damage. Some of the staging of this movie, especially the performance scenes in wartime Britain, is pretty spectacular, and the print quality shows it off exceptionally well. I've read some other reviews complaining about the 'awful' print quality -- I must admit I think a few flaws go with the territory when it comes to transfers of this age. Unless, that is, the transfer comes from the present undisputed champions of vintage remasters, Warners, who are now equalling Criterion at their own game!

    The sound is stereo, with very little apparent channel separation for most of the time. The most marked stereo comes in the band's performance over the closing credits -- till then you have to listen really closely to notice the spread.

    There are no extra features. But while Universal keeps the prices for these issues at such a rock-bottom level, I have no issue with that.

    ADDENDUM Further research reveals there may be no definitive answer to the original-ratio question. But the likely story is this:

    The Glenn Miller Story was filmed in Academy ratio and intended for release in that format - and may have been shown that way in limited release in 1953. It gained its major cinema release in 1954, and at that time it was trimmed by approximately 12 per cent top and bottom, to capitalise on the new boom in widescreen movies.

    So the Academy (full-screen) ratio was the original and intended format; the cropped 'widescreen' version seems to be the version given widest original cinema release.


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  •   And I quote...
    "About half of this story is worth 10 points. The rest, zilch. The good stuff is diluted with saccharine schmalz to the point of nausea. "
    - Anthony Clarke
      Review Equipment
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