Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1954. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by Valentine Davies, Oscar Brodney. Cinematography by William H. Daniels. Produced by Aaron Rosenberg. Music by Henry Mancini. Production Design by Alexander Golitzen, Bernard Herzbrun. Costume Design by Jay A. Morley Jr.. Film Editing by Russell F. Schoengarth. Academy Awards 1954.
The trombonist bandleader who changed the sound of popular music is given a respectable biopic featuring James Stewart in the lead and June Allyson as his wife Helen. Made ten years after Miller’s tragic death, his plane lost over the English Channel while performing his service in World War II, the film celebrates the wealth of music he managed to write and produce in his short forty years, beginning with his lengthy struggle trying to make a living while enduring the frustration of trying to capture the rebellious rhythm in his head, through to his nailing both to great success. The script wisely gives up on most of its narrative efforts by the last third and it’s all the better for us, as the superb musical direction delivers one great tune after another and increases the frequency of numbers the closer it gets to Miller’s career taking off and establishing his legacy. Not that the dramatization of the main couple’s love affair is terribly performed, but the personal aspect of the story does veer towards the twee, buoyed only by the fact that Allyson’s toothy smiles never seem like a performance and that the two of them really do convince you that they’re crazy about each other. For something that is purely an exploitation of nostalgia, it has a surprising number of memorable, edgy moments.