Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
21 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Memories of the March King
bkoganbing21 October 2007
What should be understood is that Stars and Stripes Forever is in no way a full biography of the famous March King which was the nickname given to John Philip Sousa. It is rather a portrait of the era known as the Gay Nineties in America where Sousa first achieved his reputation and prominence. Also included is a romance between fictional characters played by Robert Wagner and Debra Paget.

In that beard with those pince nez glasses, Clifton Webb looks remarkably like John Philip Sousa in that period and by reputation, Sousa was as much a dilettante as Webb normally played on screen which made him perfect casting. After leaving the Marine Corps band, Sousa formed his own orchestra which became world famous and toured the globe well into the Twenties.

But our story concerns Sousa the March King. Though he composed all kinds of music, it is his marches that have come down today and have given him his reputation. The Marine Corps official march, Semper Fidelis, was composed by Sousa and the incident involving President Benjamin Harrison as depicted in Stars and Stripes Forever is somewhat true. The Marine Corps Band was playing at a White House reception and the Harrison who was not the most social of presidents ordered Sousa to speed up the tempo so the receiving line would move at a brisk pace.

Ruth Hussey is cast in the Myrna Loy type role of the perfect understanding mate for her genius husband and she fulfills the role admirably. Even Clifton Webb does make you forget you're watching Clifton Webb and you do think you are seeing the real Sousa.

Stars and Stripes Forever is an admirable film and of course the finale does have several bands and marching armed forces personnel playing and marching to Sousa's most famous composition.
19 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Charming and entertaining all the way...
Nazi_Fighter_David7 November 1999
The only indisputable and exciting great element in "Stars and Stripes Forever" is its music...

Clifton Webb does a fine work as the great band-master and composer of memorable marches who, on the 1890's, when he leaves the Marines Corps., forms his own concert band and travels around the world...

With the sensitive and beautiful Debra Paget as the singer-dancer, and the sympathetic and good-looking Robert Wagner as the horn player, the loving couple shares a real and firm part of the 'imagined' tale...

The great highlights of the picture are when a black choir is singing "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic," and the outstanding performance of "Dixie," played by Philip Sousa and his Orchestra as they enter the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta...

With Ruth Hussey playing Sousa's sensible wife, and with vivid costumes and a rich amount of Sousa's music, this colorful film is charming and entertaining all the way...
19 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Our First Great Composer?
theowinthrop23 May 2006
John Philip Sousa's position in American (and World) music is set in stone by now. Others have composed great marches (the English composer Edward Elgar with his four "Pomp and Circumstance Marches" for instance, two of which are memorable), and such major composers like Wagner and Mendelsohn. But Sousa remains the "March King". Like Johann Strauss the Younger, Alexander Scarlatti, and Scott Joplin, he is recalled for his domination of a single area of music: marches in this case, rather than waltzes, sonatas, or "rags". But this really does not explain why he remains the "March King". There is a sense of fun and spirit in Sousa's marches that transcend what a march is usually supposed to do.

Marches were originally meant for troops to walk in step either on a training field or on the battlefield (music was used until the end of the 19th Century to keep up the spirits of the soldiers, and even to help orchestrate the speed they were to fight at when running across the battlefield). Sousa came from a musical family (his father was a musician in the Marine Corps band). Sousa followed in his father's footsteps, but played several instruments and rose to be the bandmaster. He began composing pieces for the Marine Corps Band, such as "Semper Fidelis", "The Washington Post March", "Manhattan Beach", and he tried to expand his abilities into other fields. When he left the Marine Corps, he formed his own band, which he developed with a perfect balance of brass, stings, percussion, and woodwinds. His band would go around the world performing, not only his own pieces, but also other composers as well.

The movie does touch, once or twice, on Sousa's attempts to broaden his musical ability by doing Broadway shows (operettas). At the start Clifton Webb, as Sousa, does play the melody of "Semper Fidelis" for his wife Jenny (Ruth Hussey) as a tune to be sung. It doesn't quite work. He would do a successful operetta (which is still revived) called EL CAPITAN, which starred DeWolf Hopper (we hear an actor as Hopper singing a tune at a rehearsal during the movie). However, EL CAPITAN had a book by Charles Klein, a major dramatist of the 1890s - 1915 (he drowned in the Lusitania disaster). Klein was not a W. S. Gilbert, but his libretto was serviceable. Unfortunately Sousa never had another librettist/lyricist like Klein, and spent the rest of his career seeking his "Gilbert". As a result the leading operetta composer from the U.S. in Sousa's lifetime (and since) was Victor Herbert.

Sousa was talented in other ways too. He sometimes wrote clever lyrics to comic songs, such as "A Typical Song of Zanzibar". He wrote about five comic novels too. He designed the special marching tuba, the "Sousaphone" (which is shown in the film being designed by Webb and Robert Wagner). But it is the string of great marches that he left which are his great donation to our culture. The reason is more than just his gift for melodious music. He was a genius at composition and orchestration - probably the best orchestrator among the major American composers.

His best remembered march is the title march for this film: THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER. The film mentions how Sousa, on a trip for his health, was walking the deck of the liner at night and thought of the beat of the music. We hear Webb describing the moment (quoting a passage from Sousa's memoirs, MARCHING ALONG), and the film ends with the playing of the great march. The film does not mention that that Sousa also composed words to be sung to it (which occasionally still are sung). A few years ago, the U.S. Congress formally adopted THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER as the national march.

I have gone into a great deal of detail regarding Sousa and his career, for the movie (for a biography) skims a lot. His literary efforts are not dealt with, and the film ends (really) with the playing of THE STARS AND STRIPE FOREVER. That was in 1899. Sousa would live until 1932, and would be a public figure until then. He was still composing until the 1920s.

Webb had an extensive musical comedy career in the 1920s and 1930s (he was one of the stars in Irving Berlin's AS THOUSANDS CHEER, for example). But aside from an occasional tune he sings like "When I wore a Tulip" or a dance he does with Jeanne Craig in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, he never did a musical. STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER is his one "musical film". He is credible as Sousa, but the film never really goes deeply into the great man. The dramatic portions are handled by Robert Wagner and Deborah Paget as friends and lovers, whose love affair is twisted for awhile by the Spanish American War. The film is certainly watchable (the cast is game, and the music is first rate) but it is not a showcase for Webb's talents in musicals. Ironically he could have been in Vincent Minelli's THE BANDWAGON with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, but opted for the lead as Sousa. Probably a bad decision - but it is hard to say. Every July 4th STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER is shown for it's great holiday music. What we lost in not seeing Webb opposite Astaire is not enough to prevent our still seeing Webb as the great maestro composer.
14 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
SOUSA - The musical "spirit" of the United States!
larrysmile113 October 2001
Watch this movie to get a historical perspective on some of America's and the World's Best Marching Band Music by John Philip Sousa!

The film is a chronology of snippets about the life of John Philip Sousa, his wife, and two apparently fictional friends written into the movie to have a young romantic sub-plot. All other performers in this film are not interesting enough in character to comment upon. Most of the actors were not even credited in the films running credits.

Clifton Webb (real name: Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck) was 63 years old when this movie was released in 1952. While his written dialog is not all that dramatic, Mr. Webb was a long time actor, singer, dancer, silent screen performer and theater performer before making this picture. Clifton Webb doesn't really have to act in this film. He carries the part of John Philip Sousa by standing straight with a stiff back, wearing many colorful marching band uniforms, looking very snobbishly "British" with a stiff demeanor while putting on the airs of a musical task-master demanding perfection, yet with a silent softness in his heart for the two younger performers, a 22 year old Robert (John) Wagner and the vivacious, effervescent, and energetic 18 year old Debra Paget (real name: Debralee Griffin). Mr. Webb died in 1966 at the age of 77 years old.

Ruth (Carol) Hussy at age 38 years plays Sousa's wife "Jennie" Sousa. Research reveals that Sousa's wife's name was Jane van Middlesworth Bellis whom Sousa met during rehearsals for a stage play she was performing in. They married when he was 25 years old. Ms. Hussy portrays the role of a wife and homemaker who runs the Sousa household and cajoles her husband to be sympathetic to the secret romance of Willie Little and Lily Becker. She is the `binder' of the Sousa household and the `understanding' wife behind the scenes.

Internet research reveals no existence of the two characters, Little and Becker, in real life. A web site of the Dallas Wind Symphony has a listing of every band member who performed in Sousa's Band. The name of Willie Little is not listed among them. The movie explains that Willie Little is a Marine Private who joins the Corps with the desire to perform in Sousa's Band. The Little character comes to Sousa's home, unannounced, with a Sousaphone Little claims to have "invented" and had built for Sousa's march music to make the sound better than a standard tuba which is too brash a sound for a concert hall. Sousa takes a liking to Private Little and takes him into his band. However, Sousa himself gave a personal interview to the Christian Science Monitor on May 30, 1922 and claims that he, Sousa, approached the J.W. Pepper Company in Philadelphia and commissioned the Sousaphone to be made in 1893, one year after Sousa gives up his directorship of the Marine Band.

Debra Paget, best known for her part four years later as the beautiful `Lilia the Water Girl' in the epic The Ten Commandments, gives this film all the levity of young romance and a love tension which the mature Webb-Hussy parts can not produce. It is a pleasure to watch her dance and sing numbers as well as the way she gives Robert Wagner "love kicks" in the shins. At the age of 28 years Ms. Paget married for the third time and quit the motion picture business. A loss to all whom appreciates a beautiful woman!

When the battleship USS Maine is blown up in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898 Willie Little re-enlists in the Marines and goes off to Cuba to fight in the four month Spanish-American War of 1898. He loses a leg and returns home to his "secret wife" Lily and a seat at a Sousa concert to entertain the hospital patients in Washington, D.C.

Historical data from various web sites highlight that John Philip Sousa was placed into the Marine Corps in 1867 at the age 13 years as an apprentice musician, by his father, John Antonio Sousa, who was a trombonist in the Marine Corps band, because young Sousa wanted to run away to join the circus. Eight years later, Sousa was discharged from the Marines (1875) at the age of 21 years. In the next five years Sousa builds a reputation good enough for the Marines to contact him and offer him the Directorship of the Marine Band. Sousa returns to the Corps and accepts the Directorship in 1880. Sousa is 26 years old and is now being referred to as a Sergeant Major (however his uniforms display no marine enlisted rank) until he departs the Marines at age 38 years (1892) to form his own civilian marching band because he cannot afford to support his family of wife and four children on Marine pay. Real photos of Sousa show him with a thick dark beard, which makes it believable, that the 63-year-old Webb can play the 38-year-old Sousa during the Marine years.

Watch this movie to get a good dose of the famous Sousa marches, Semper Fidelis (1888) the Official Marine Corps Hymn, Washington Post March (1889), and the Stars and Stripes Forever (1896) the Official March of the United States. You will even enjoy the band's playing of the song, Dixie as well as the inspiring gospel choir performing the Battle Hymn of the Republic when Sousa's Band marches into Atlanta after their commission to perform at a convention was canceled. If you like pretty, late-19th Century, dresses and snappy military band uniforms this is a movie to see. No one else could play John Philip Sousa but Clifton Webb. And, next Fourth of July when you see the Boston Pops Playing The Stars and Stripes Forever you will have some historical background into the world of the man who composed this enduring Spirit of America.
15 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A darned entertaining bio-pic
vincentlynch-moonoi14 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As one of our reviewers learned, if you really wanted to learn all about John Phillip Sousa, this film wouldn't be the way to do so. But if you want to spend a couple of very entertaining hours, then you're in for a real treat.

First off, the arrangements here are absolutely top notch, and feature excellent renditions of Sousa's music. Second, you have the always entertaining Clifton Webb at the top of his form...this time without the sarcasm that most of us learned to love. Webb is no less entertaining here, but it is a bit of a different role for him. And, you have Robert Wagner...who was...well, let's just say it...beautiful at this age, as well as being a very pleasant actor to watch. Debra Paget is fine as Wagner's love interest, as is Ruth Hussey as Sousa's wife.

This is not a perfect film. The whole Wagner role is simply fiction, but that liberty helped make the film so very entertaining, and gave the film some context.

The conclusion is a rousing rendition of the title song, and I have to say that more than once, even now, I have seen audiences roused to cheering with that number.

This is a very entertaining film. And, you can say that while you are watching this film, Clifton Webb IS John Phillip Sousa! I last saw it when I was only a boy, probably on "Saturday Night At The Movies", and I remembered it as being very entertaining. Now in 2012, I still find it to be wonderfully entertaining.

P.S. And now in 2017, with the new Blu Ray edition, I enjoyed it once again. The color here is stunning Technicolor. There is a very slight graininess, but the transfer is still top notch.

Highly recommended.
5 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A feast for the Sousa lover
jjnxn-110 February 2014
Although it probably only has the most tenuous connection with the actual John Philip Sousa's home life this is a highly enjoyable even rousing biography of the famed musician and band leader.

Clifton Webb is such spot on casting as Sousa from his resemblance to the man through his clipped speak and regal bearing it almost seems as if Sousa was invented for him expressly. Ruth Hussey is terrific fun as Mrs. Sousa, sassy and tart but displaying infinite patience for her persnickety husband. The two of them make a great pair showing in subtle ways that even though they have small habits that drive each other crazy there was a deep love the couple shared over the years.

In a fabricated subplot Robert Wagner and Debra Paget, both almost supernaturally beautiful, as a young musician and the music hall entertainer that he loves are bursting with vitality and youthful exuberance.

All of them are highly engaging but it's really the music that the film is about and it's stuffed from one end to the other with classic Sousa marches and his other compositions. The film is bandbox pretty, every frame practically pulsates with ultra bright Technicolor. There is one somber passage where the war touches all the main characters lives but overall the movie is a cheery experience and leaves you in a toe tapping upbeat mood at its conclusion.

A most satisfying diversion especially for lovers of marching music.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Perfect Hollywood Biopic (with a Bit of Fantasy)
lawprof18 August 2004
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.

12 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A musical biopic that doesn't falsify the man.
piapia22 February 1999
I've seen Stars and Stripes Forever after more than forty years. It stands as an agreeable, happy musical, and the only musical biopic that I know, that doesn't falsify the man. The John Philip Sousa of the movie is the real John Philip Sousa. And Clifton Webb gave here his more mature and less hackneyed performance.
9 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Stars &Stripes Forever-Sempar Fidelis ***1/2
edwagreen4 July 2009
This picture is always a sempar fidelis-It's always faithful when viewing. It is certainly a rousing tribute to the march king-John Philip Sousa.

The film takes us from the career of Sousa is the Marine Marching band to life afterward. Interesting that he served 5 presidents during his tenure with the marines.

Robert Wagner and Debra Paget play the couple who worked with Sousa in his band and married. The film briefly relates how they thought they'd keep their marriage a secret from Sousa. Wagner made his film debut the same year as this film in the other rousing "With A Song in My Heart." He certainly got experience with crutches in both films. Paget, will forever be remembered as Lilia, the water-girl in the epic "The 10 Commandments." Ironically, her name in this film was Lily as well.

The music was excellently staged and Clifton Webb was in fine form as Sousa. Why? It always seemed that Webb, a fine actor, was always a perfectionist in his films. This film was certainly no exception.

Again, a definitely rousing tribute to a great American. Ruth Hussey, who played Webb's wife in the film, was totally subordinate here. That's how the lifestyle was in the 1890s.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
starchy Sousa, '50s romance
weezeralfalfa11 November 2007
Having spent 6 years in orchestras and marching bands before graduating from high school, often playing Sousa's best known marches, I anticipated this partial biographical film. Clifton Webb does indeed come across as the real Sousa and certainly appears much younger than his 60+ years. He much reminds us of Frank Gilbreth in "Cheaper by the Dozen", another perfect role for him. The inclusion of the fabricated young couple played by Robert Wagner and Debra Paget was understandable, serving to lighten things up from time to time as contrasted to Sousa's rather starchy exterior. However, they come across as basically a '50s show biz couple interjected into an 1890s historical film. I was disappointed that more of Sousa's best known marches were not featured, nor the background of how he came to compose some of them revealed. After all, he did compose more than 100 marches, of which at least 8 should be recognized by every American as classics. In addition to "The Washington Post", "Semper Fidelis" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever" prominently featured in the film, "The Thunderer", "The Liberty Bell", "King Cotton", "El Capitan" and "The Corcoran Cadets March" should be instantly recognizable. In the film, we briefly see Sousa on a ship talking to himself about an idea for a classic march. But, we never find out that it is Christmas day, he is on a ship bound from Europe to America and is composing "The Stars and Stripes Forever" in his head. Also, it could have been brought out that his popular march "The Liberty Bell" was due to have quite a different name. However, after he saw a large backdrop of the Liberty Bell and coincidentally received a letter from his wife saying his son was marching in a parade honoring the Liberty Bell, he changed his mind. Sousa's opposition to recording his band and to radio broadcasts of his band could have been brought out(True, radio broadcasting had not been invented during the time period covered). Although he did allow many recordings of the Marine Band around 1890, he later became strongly opposed to recordings of his own band until very late in his career. In this resistance to new electronic technologies that allowed many unseen people to enjoy his music whenever they wished, he was in sympathy with Irving Berlin.

Sousa was not quite the one-dimensional genius popularly supposed. The film brings out to some extent his ambition to be a composer for the musical stage. He also composed several novels. The film could have also brought out the fact that Sousa was recognized as one of the top trap shooters in the world and initiated a national organization for trap shooters.

Sousa's name and origins were a subject for speculation. Several sources claimed that he was from various European countries and that Sousa was a stage name, the "usa" part representing "USA", his adopted country. Im fact, he was born and raised in Washington, D.C., his father being a member of the Marine Band. His ancestry is mostly Portuguese and Bavarian, Sousa being a rather common Portuguese and Spanish name. Variant spellings include d'Souza, Soza and Sosa.

One of film's highlights is the defiant appearance of his marching band in a southern city after notification that it's booking had been canceled due to popular opposition. I don't know if this incident has any factual basis, but Sousa's music and band are depicted as seen by many southerners as a purely Yankee institution. We see the faces of a group of African Americans when "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is played, but I wonder what the reaction of the typical Caucasian southerner would have been. This inspirational Civil War favorite was in fact an unintentional collaboration between South Carolinian William Steffe, who composed the tune shortly before the Civil War, and unionist Julia Ward Howe, who provided the lyrics, one of various lyrics sung to this tune in both the North and South. Thus, it might have been interpreted as a unifying symbol.
8 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One film "for ever.."
Misterixt30 June 2001
This film shares with some few ones, the virtue of having remained in my memory "for ever."(I should express myself through a "translator." Apologize if there are errors.) they are many the movies that one goes. They are few those that have this "angel" Of those "new" it could mention "Ghost", or those of Schwazenegger..!, or "The Bodyguard", or Nothinhill or E.T", it doesn't depend on the "gender", neither of the performance, neither of the truthfulness, neither of the budget. They have something that makes them maybe inolvidables.Y it is the virtue more "looked for" for all artist. I ignore if these last they will pass the the 50 year-old test in the memory of the new generations. But "Stars and Stripes for ever", it shares with first o'clock "The Defiant ones", "The Unicorn", "Taxi to Toubruc", "Splendor in the Grass", among other, that "mystery." Still without the promotion of "Casablanca"· or "Gilda", for example, they remain in the memory "forever." I have not seen it again in almost 50 years. I cannot already speak of superlative performances or historical inaccuracies. It is not surely a "documental" But it is an unforgettable movie. I yearn that Sousa would surely share.
6 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Fine movie about a man with a mountain of musical talent.
TxMike4 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I came across this movie on the TV network "Movies!".

If we look through recorded history at people who stand out and the contributions they made, in music John Philip Sousa has to come up on any list. He was a multi-talented musician who ended up in the Marines, and became the leader of the Marine Corps Band. It became the official band for 5 different US Presidents. He wrote most of the best and most famous marches, and even had a new instrument built, the Sousaphone, a bass with a particular design that allowed it to be played bell-forward, and adapted to marching bands.

Clifton Webb is simply great as John Philip Sousa. After achieving great success while still in the military he chose to get discharged. Ask why by his superiors his answer was simple and logical, he could not support his large family with 5 children on his military salary.

When he struck out on his own he picked only the finest musicians, each one up musically to the same standards Sousa held for himself. There is a funny scene where a trumpet player is auditioning. Sousa took the cornet and played a fast and complicated piece (Variations on Carnival of Venice) to show what he was expecting and the other guy just took his horn and walked away. I am a trumpet player, in high school, college, and community bands as an adult, we played all of the Sousa marches, that scene struck a particular chord with me. Though I would not, even in my prime, have been good enough to play with his band.

Robert Wagner was barely past 20, a young soldier named Willie Little who desperately wanted to play with Sousa's band. In one scene he shows up at Sousa's home with the instrument that came to be known as the Sousaphone, and young Willie named it that in honor of the man. But that is a fabrication for the movie, the Sousaphone was in fact a creation of Sousa himself, he gave instructions for its fabrication to an instrument builder.

The young love interest was provided by Debra Paget, still in her teens, as Lily Becker, a stage performer who wanted her own career. I had forgotten how pretty and delightful Paget was, and she and Wagner are both in good form here.

All in all a fine, entertaining movie covering a key part of the great bandsman's life and accomplishments. Plus it is filled with famous Sousa marches.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A minor "goof" and a teeny bit of trivia
wcrypto24 July 2009
In an early scene, following a "Pass In Review", Sousa informs the Secretary of the Navy that he will be leaving the Marine Band to form his own commercial band. At that time, the movie informs you that Sousa is a Sergeant Major (a high enlisted rank but a non-officer]. For much of the 12 years he led the U.S. Marine Band, he was indeed a Sergeant Major, but at the time he resigned from the band, he was a Warrant Officer (a very special type of officer, within the ranks of commissioned officers).

Sousa was born on "F" Street (S.E. Washington) just a few blocks from the Marine Barracks at 8th and I streets – "the oldest post in the Corps." He served a seven year apprenticeship with the band, and after a few years away from the band, he returned as their director for the period 1880-1892. All of this time (apprenticeship and as Director) was served at Marine Barracks, 8th and I.

W4crypto (a retired, Warrant Officer, U.S. Navy)
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Not Enough Sousa And His Music
ccthemovieman-115 August 2006
Ususually, I like biographical films, so this was a disappointment. This is supposed to be all about John Philip Sousa, the great American 'March King,' but the subplot - a romance involving Robert Wagner and Ruth Hussey - takes up a good chunk of the film, is stupid and gets the film off to a slow start. This romance just takes up too much time. I watched this to learn about Sousa.

Clifton Webb played Sousa and Webb was always an interesting actor. Too bad he didn't get to play more of the role. When he was on, and Sousa's music was featured, the film was very good. There's nice color in here, too.
13 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
It may not be accurate historically, but it's sure entertaining!
gregcouture9 May 2003
When this movie was released it was the climax of one of those dreaded days when I had to accompany my mother on a downtown Boston, Massachusetts, shopping trip. I was never aware if my having to tag along was because she couldn't find a babysitter or because she wanted a little companionship, however young and immature, as she searched for a few things to update the family's wardrobe. By the time our trek through several department stores had bored me almost to the point of rebellion, we found ourselves entering the Mayflower Theater and I soon sat fascinated as this Technicolor treat unspooled before my amazed eyes. Even then I knew I wasn't seeing an historically accurate recreation of the life and times of the famous Mr. Sousa, whose music was familiar to me because of my father's enthusiasm for it. (He had played trumpet in his high school band.) But I knew I was seeing a glowingly colorful example of what Hollywood could do to entertain an audience in the mood for some patriotism, however jingoistic, with a touch of romantic flim-flam thrown in.

20th-Century Fox trowelled on the Technicolor; cast Ruth Hussey and Clifton Webb as about the most compatible-seeming mature couple one could imagine; assigned the ever-reliable Alfred Newman to supervise the music, which he did magnificently; and allowed two of its young up-and-comers, Robert Wagner and Debra Paget, to supply a little frosting on the cake. The end result thoroughly charmed that weary pre-teenager in 1953 and did, again, when I saw it on a TV broadcast many years later.

I have to confess that I watched it again to catch that absolutely amazing number, "Father's Got 'Em!", performed with energy to burn by the gorgeous Miss Paget in some of the tightest white tights I'd ever seen before or since. It's hilarious and a heck of a lot sexier than the struttings of most of today's so-called "divas."

Since this was a pre-CinemaScope Twentieth product, possibly produced while the three-strip Technicolor process was still in use, the VHS tape transfer may very well look as vividly rich as it did on that big screen so many years ago in Boston.
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Somewhat personal
judson-jones-127 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This film changed my life - literally. When I was in the 1st grade, my parents wanted me to take piano lessons. For some reason, I thought that music was "sissy", REAL men didn't do music. My brother and I went to the movie every Saturday, and this movie was on. It changed my mind. Here, in this movie, were US Marines playing music. I no longer thought of music as "sissy". I took 7 years of piano, and have been in bands since 1955. Here, at age 61, I'm still in a community band, church choir, cantor, director of a small band at church and a girl scout band. None of this would have happened without this movie coming to town at just the right moment.

Now, for the negative part. The character played by Robert Wagner was an invention - he didn't exist in real life. The Sousaphone, or marching tuba, was jointly invented by Sousa and an instrument manufacturer. There are several historical inaccuracies, so many that, according to the official J.P. Sousa web site, the family will have nothing to do with the movie.

But this doesn't diminish my admiration. This is my favorite musical, and I think was extremely well done. I recommend this film to everybody.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Great music, minor inaccuracies.
yenlo1 February 2000
As enjoyable as this film is it seems that a few of the historical inaccuracies could have been avoided. It would have been impossible for a Sergeant Major in the Marine Corps at the time that Sousa served to be able to afford such a beautiful private home complete with maids etc, Uncle Sam just didn't pay his service people that much back then. The Robert Wagner character would not have been able to get away with what he did while serving in the Marines as well. However this is still an entertaining motion picture with great music. The gorgeous Debra Paget adds to the picture. I still can't quite figure out what the living scenes actors did that was so bad it got them arrested.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
ccthemovieman-1 pegged the main problem with this film...
MartinHafer11 November 2009
According to the prolific ccthemovieman-1, the main problem with this film is that there isn't enough of John Philip Sousa and his music. Instead, too much time and emphasis is placed on a completely irrelevant plot with Robert Wagner and Debra Paget. It was as if the studio thought that the life of Sousa wasn't interesting enough so they had to spice it up with this romantic subplot. Well, I thoroughly agree with cc--this is a major problem with the film.

In fact, if you are looking for a biography of Sousa, this film is NOT what you are looking for. None of his early life is shown in the film and only the tiniest portion of his career as a band leader in the US Marine Corpsis even shown--something for which he is most famous! I am NOT an expert on Sousa and perhaps he was a dull guy, though I strongly doubt it because of the many places he went, innovations he made and success he achieved. Why not just let the film tell the truth without all the silly falderal that you see in this film? By the way, I used the word 'falderal' as it was a popular word from the era of Sousa and it means "foolish nonsense"--an apt description of the unnecessary elements of this film.

As for the acting in the film, much of it was pretty good. Clifton Webb was always a terrific actor and I'd watch him in anything--even this silly film. Also of note is character actor Finlay Currie, as he really stretched his range in STARS AND STRIPES--playing a Southern gentleman--despite his Irish/English heritage. He was surprisingly good here and not much like roles he played in films like IVANHOE.

Another thing I liked about the film is a small scene featuring a Black singing group. They sounded great, though it also got me thinking that it was sad that Blacks in Hollywood films were generally absent during this era. It was nice to see this positive image.

So despite the obvious flaws in the film is it worth seeing? As I said above, there were some big pluses for the film, so it is worth a look. But, it's also pretty easy to skip as it's a rather colorful but empty biopic. Not bad, mind you, but also not particularly good--especially as too much emphasis was placed on the stage dancing of Miss Paget and not enough on the real Sousa.
4 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of My Favorites
tyoung-246 May 2008
Someone made a comment about the reason for the arrest of the people on stage. He or she did not understand the reason for the arrest. Apparently, the number was done other times, and at the end of the performance,one of the ladies tights split, and you could hear the rip. I think that was the reason for the arrests. That is just a guess mind you. I any event the movie always stirs my patriotism when I watch it. I was in the Marine Corps. also, and Robert wagner could not have gotten away with the things that he did. Debra paget has always been one of my favorite actresses next to Maureen O'Hara that is.She was great in Broken Arrow also. The portion of the movie when Clifton Webb ( John Philip Sousa) had his whole band at a plantation and the singers sang the Battle Hymn Of The Republic, always makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up and I get chills hearing the great voices in that choir.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
America's uplifting band leader and march king
SimonJack30 January 2018
Clifton Webb stars in this entertaining and uplifting musical biopic of John Philip Sousa. The king of the march was an American icon and legend from the late 19th century to 1932. A composer and bandleader, he wrote more than 130 marches, 15 operettas, several other musical compositions and hundreds of arrangements. Besides that, he had time to write five novels.

Among his most famous marches still played today are the official Marine Corps march, "Semper Fidelis," "The Washington Post" march (in response to the newspaper of that name running an essay contest in 1889), and "Stars and Stripes Forever." The latter is one of just two official songs of the United States. "The Star Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the U.S., and "Stars and Stripes Forever" is the official march of the U.S.

The movie, "Stars and Stripes Forever," doesn't cover his early years but starts with Sousa as a sergeant-major in the U.S. Marine Corps. At the time, he had been principal musician and bandleader of the Marine Corps Band in Washington, D.C. for 12 years. He had served and led the Marine band under five U.S. presidents.

The film covers the last days with the Marines and then his years with his private band, the Sousa Band. He was 35 years old in 1892 when he left the Marine Corps to build a band like no others of the day. He combined the best of what was popular at the time and had a band that one reviewer described as a military orchestra. The band toured America for two years to sell-out crowds everywhere. And then went on an international tour. He received honors from royalty and government heads all across Europe. Sousa continued to tour and play across the U.S. and on a world tour for nearly 40 years.

The Sousa Band was unquestionably the most famous band in the world during that time. Anyone who's ever played in a high school, college, city or other band has played Sousa's music.

The film is a fair portrayal of Sousa's musical life through his most productive years. The characters of Willie Little and Lily Becker are fictional, for the romantic and comedy effects. Robert Wagner and Debra Paget play them well. Ruth Hussey is Jennie Sousa. All of the cast are very good.

The musicians chosen for the film were superb and gave the music the energy that Sousa displayed in his directing. Movies such as this are good for showing the works of the great musicians. I would have enjoyed some more of a closer look at Sousa the man, and his family. But this is definitely a movie to get one up on his or her feet to stomp around the room to the music.

The film has a nice blend of humor. Here are some favorite lines. For more, see the Quotes section under this IMDb Web page of the movie.

John Philip Sousa, "What in the name of all get out's been keeping you so long?" Jennie Sousa, "I was hearing the children's prayers." Sousa, "Does that take all night?" Jennie, "They were praying for you."

Sousa, "It's always a pleasure to meet young ladies whom I find sitting on my lap."

Jennie Sousa, "And as to hearing you sing, my husband would be delighted. Won't you Philip?" Sousa, "If you say so, dear."

Lily Becker, singing a silly song of the day, "Father's got 'em. Father's got 'em. Got the hycumflukies of the brain."

Sousa, "Upon my word, ma'am, I've never danced with so charming and graceful a two-stepper." Jennie Sousa, "And upon mine, sir, I've never danced with so charming and flattering a liar."
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Debra Paget has nice legs
marthawilcox183112 August 2014
Here you see another side to Debra Paget. I always thought she was a bit samey in all her films, and although I don't think she's particularly good looking, she has got a nice pair of legs and she reveals her behind. It's a very different side of her, and you begin to understand why she broke into films as a teenager, but didn't have a career once she reached her 30s. Here you see the sensuous side of her, and although she can't sing, act or dance, she is more alluring in this role than in straight roles. Maybe she should have done more musical roles to show off her thighs and behind.

As for the film itself it's a bit dull even with Robert Wagner and Clifton Webb in it.
0 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed