In the 1890s, Sgt. Major John Philip Sousa, leader of the Marine Corps Band, meets Private Willie Little, inventor of an instrument he calls the Sousaphone...and Little's girlfriend, shapely showgirl Lily. To support his growing family, Sousa leaves the Marines and forms his own band; Willie and Lily go along. Though he'd rather write ballads, Sousa's marches bring him increasing fame; from their debut in 1892 the band is a great success. But Sousa's 'no wives' rule threatens the romance of Willie and Lily...as does the Spanish-American War. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Clifton Webb, who had starred in musicals on Broadway, had been offered the chance to appear with Fred Astaire in the MGM musical The Band Wagon (1953)--which is now considered one of the classics of the era--but passed it up to be in this film because his role of John Philip Sousa was the lead in that film, whereas he would have only played a supporting role to Astaire in "The Band Wagon". See more »
During the opening display of 20th Century Fox's logo, Sousa's "Semper Fidelis" was played instead of the usual 20th Century fanfare See more »
A Perfect Hollywood Biopic (with a Bit of Fantasy)
John Philip Sousa was not only America's "March King," he was a skilled organizer and entertainer who also composed much music now thoroughly unknown to most Americans (and fans elsewhere). His life spanned the era of an optimistic, brash America where live music was the only music to the burgeoning and eventually triumphant victory of an insatiable technology that even in Sousa's lifetime was employed to record almost everything. Sousa benefited from the new world of recording and he can be heard on compact disc in his later years conducting his famed quasi-military band.
20th Century Fox enlisted a cadre of fine performers for a seamlessly entertaining biopic of John Philip Sousa with a nice, anachronistically innocent, fictional romance interwoven with the band leader/composer's story.
As Sousa Clifton Webb brings to life a character who was, as in reality, ambitious and driven to succeed. Sousa left the Marine Corps, where he led The President's Own, to start his hand-picked band. In uniforms which the leader designed, the outfit mirrored great military bands (of which the U.S., as opposed to England, had a clear shortage during Sousa's life). Sousa understood the importance of touring and he was light years ahead of the twentieth century's pops ensembles in making his musicians - and his music - as ubiquitous as travel of his day allowed.
Sousa's patient and adoring wife, Jennie, is well played by Ruth Hussey.
A nice romantic plot is the courtship of aspiring singer Lily Becker and the alleged inventor of the sousaphone, Willie Little. Lily is the gorgeous Debra Paget and Willie the young and upcoming Robert Wagner. Neither character existed in real life but their romance is well threaded into Sousa's story and is coyly affecting.
1952 was a hard year for many Americans. A self-designated lame duck president presided over an unpopular war, the first in our history in which victory in the traditional military sense wasn't a strategic or political objective. "The Stars and Stripes Forever" was a refreshing patriotic film that didn't require thinking about the realities of the day. I remember seeing it as a kid and loving every minute. I still watch it occasionally.
Credit also goes to the producer and to director Henry Koster for including a scene at an Atlanta festival where a black chorus sings The Battle Hymn of the Republic under Sousa's baton right after a rousing version of Dixie was performed. This was two years before Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court's belated start of the final assault on the obscenity of legalized racial discrimination. I doubt everyone in the South felt good about that scene.
Musical pieces are well interwoven with the story and the final minutes have Sousa's most famous march, also the movie's title, played with a segue from his band to contemporary marching marines and soldiers. His superimposed spectral leading is a fine reminder of his role. A very nice touch.
Folks who only know Sousa from a relative handful of oft-performed and wonderful marches should check out his less well-known music. NAXOS is currently releasing a series of CDs of works that reflect Sousa's extraordinary creativity. But above all, Americans owe him an everlasting debt for composing stirring music that still animates listeners as it did when first performed under his baton.
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