It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
Stars & Stripes Forever (1952)– Musical #466
20th Century Fox
Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Debra Paget, Ruth Hussey, Finlay Currie, Roy Roberts, George Chakiris (uncredited)
Narrator: Max Showalter
Biographical film on composer and conductor John Philip Sousa (Webb), known primarily for American military and patriotic marches.
-Clifton Webb turned down a supporting role in Band Wagon (1953) to star in this film. The role went to Jack Buchanan.
-The film was based on John Philip Sousa’s autobiography “Marching Along.” However, Robert Wagner and Debra Paget’s roles were fictional characters, Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb by Clifton Webb.
-It took five years for Darryl F. Zanuck to get the rights to Sousa’s life story and he paid $100,000 for it, according to Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb by Clifton Webb.
-Musicians who played under Sousa and his daughter Helen felt like the film didn’t portray Sousa well and made him look like an ineffective man, according to the biography “John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon” by Paul E. Bierley.
-Music by Alfred Newman
-Clifton Webb singing “My Love is a Weeping Willow”
-My Love Is a Weeping Willow performed by Clifton Webb (singing)
-Stars and Stripes Forever
-Turkey in the Straw
Anyone who was in band class or marching band (such as myself) is familiar with composer John Philip Sousa and his marching music — they probably even played at least one piece during their time too! And that’s why a former band nerd such as myself thoroughly enjoyed this film.
Is it the best plot? Well, like most biographical films, parts of it were fabricated. Based on Sousa’s autobiography “Marching On,” the film follows his desire to write ballads to writing popular march tunes that are heralded by Presidents of the United States. The fabricated part comes in with the characters of Robert Wagner (a student and musician) and Debra Paget (an actress and Wagner’s girl). While they created the romantic aspect of the film, I’m not sure if they were needed.
The wonderful actress Ruth Hussey plays Mrs. Sousa. Hussey was an MGM contract player in the 1930s and 1940s. But by the early 1950s, she transitioned to mainly television, so seeing her here a treat. Her hair is dyed a dark blonde, which is odd, but she is still pleasant to see.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Clifton Webb’s performance. It goes without saying that Webb is wonderful in every film and I’m convinced he could play anything.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure if this qualified as a “musical” since it is more march music and a couple of songs performed by Paget. However, a 1952 advertisement called it a musical so I figured I was safe. And musicals are defined as music moving the story along, and the march music does indeed play a large role in this film.
This film is colorful and filled with bright marches, which is what I enjoyed. My toe was tapping throughout most of the film. I do wish the storyline would have focused more on Sousa rather than the two made up characters, but otherwise it is enjoyable.