Orchestra Wives [1942]

Genre: Music
"It's Hep! It's Hot! It's Hilarious!" reads the tagline for Orchestra Wives, a frothy slice of celluloid made in 1942 and featuring the great Glenn Miller Band. And that tagline is, well, sort of true. As is often the case with films of this genre (musical comedy with the occasional touch of drama), the story is largely superfluous: a naïve, smalltown girl (Ann Rutherford) falls for a fast-talking, smooth-playing trumpeter (George Montgomery); he proposes after spending, oh, about fifteen minutes with her (and before he even knows her name); she joins the band on tour, where the female members of the troupe, wives and singers alike, while away the downtime gossiping and rumor-mongering; trouble ensues, but all ends happily (and predictably). The main attraction here is seeing Miller (going by the nom du cinema Gene Morrison), then at the height of his popularity, and some of his fine musicians in action. Though not an innovator on the level of Benny Goodman and some of his other peers, Miller had a band that could swing like mad, and performances of tunes like "At Last," "Kalamazoo," and the rockin' "Bugle Call Rag" are a definite gas. The musicians are virtually all uncredited, but they include singer Marion Hutton, saxophonist-singer Tex Beneke, singer Ray Eberle, and the great drummer Moe Purtill (also look for Jackie Gleason, the Great One himself, in a substantial role as the band's bass player), as well as the Nicholas Brothers, an amazing dance team. The black & white transfer is nice, the music has been remastered in stereo, and the fact that Miller disappeared during a plane flight over the English Channel in late 1944 makes Orchestra Wives (which includes a commentary track by Rutherford and Fayard Nicholas, along with a photo gallery) something of a collector's item. --Sam Graham

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