Friday, January 1, 2010

1952 - STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER, the long awaited musical biography on the life of John Phillip Sousa

The movie ads used to say "Sean Connery IS James Bond" in the 1960's.  So I imagine they might have said "Clifton Webb IS John Phillip Sousa," in the 1950's.

Clifton Webb plays Sousa in the same style he played his other famous characters Mr. Belvedere in Sitting Pretty and Frank Gilbreth in Cheaper By the Dozen, sort of a prissy guy who has a heart of gold.


Recognizing the story of John Philip Sousa would have a limited appeal to a younger audience, the filmmakers added Robert Wagner and Debra Paget as a couple of young lovers touring in Sousa's band. They have to keep their marriage a secret from Sousa, because he disapproves of wives accompanying their husbands on tour.  That's pretty much the central conflict of the movie.  Oh, Robert Wagner is also the inventor of the Sousaphone, a musical instrument he names after his mentor.  Whenever Wagner and Paget get in an argument she kicks him in the ankles to show her anger at him,  this is an important plot point.

At one point in the movie, before a concert performance, Sousa tells his band that they are about to perform a controversial piece of music which will probably get them run out of town.  The music turns out to be a conventional Broadway dance number with Paget tap dancing up a storm.   The filmmakers must have realized that there was only so many marching band songs the audience could listen to so they fell back on plan B, this silly musical dance number.

The film takes a strange turn towards the end, Wagner enlists in the army to fight in Cuba during the Spanish/American war.  He loses his leg to friendly fire, which means that Paget can't kick him in the ankle anymore when they fight.

The movie ends with Sousa performing the "Stars and Stripes Forever" for the first time,  as the audience gets a montage of soldiers marching around the country.

90 minutes.

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