Musical Monday: Stars and Stripes Forever (1952)

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

Henry Koster

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 as John Philip Sousa

-Clifton Webb singing “My Love is a Weeping Willow”

Notable Songs:
-Semper Fidelis
-My Love Is a Weeping Willow performed by Clifton Webb (singing)
-Stars and Stripes Forever
-Turkey in the Straw
-Presidential Polonaise

My review:
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.

The real John Philip Sousa

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.

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2 thoughts on “Musical Monday: Stars and Stripes Forever (1952)

  1. I saw this movie when I was thirteen years old. I found it moving as well as inspiring. Just three years prior to its release in 1952, my family and I arrived in the U.S.A. as bona fide immigrants from British Guiana. I could not wait for the plane to touch down at Idlewild Airport, New York’s international airport, now JFK. Now, the world of American movies would be available to me, for that was all I cared about. My first movie was a double feature, A Night at the Opera and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. I was in movie heaven in Brooklyn. And I went every Saturday and Sunday. By myself. I remember seeing Stars and Stripes Forever at my neighborhood theater, the Loews Boro. It was part of my Bar Mitzvah present from my parents — far better than any fountain pen, I might add. I did not know what the word “cornball’ meant. I just knew it was in glorious Technicolor, the brisk military marches of Sousa were rousing, and Sousa was played by the unforgettable Mr. Belvedere from Sitting Pretty. I knew that I was born to be an American.


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