Thursday, August 11, 2011


Hollywood biopic about bandleader and composer John Philip Sousa starring a butched-up Clifton Webb as the man who wrote all the marches we still know, and which are still played by marching bands all over the country--and incidentally, the music used as the Monty Python theme. The film begins with Sousa, already in middle age, deciding to retire as the leader of the Marine Corps Marching Band because, as much as he loves his work, he's making no money. Young Robert Wagner, who joined the Corps just to work with Sousa, has invented an instrument called the sousaphone, and a flattered Sousa arranges for Wagner to be excused from service to join him in the creation of a commercial band. Wagner's in love with Debra Paget, a singer whom he helps to get a job in the band, but because Sousa won’t allow wives to travel with husbands, the two must marry in secret. Sousa's band is successful and he keeps writing popular marches; Wagner goes to fight in the Spanish-American War and loses a leg, but returns home and Sousa brings him on stage at a concert to play his sousaphone. Even though the screenplay was supposedly based on Sousa's memoirs, few of the movie's major narrative details are true (the sousaphone was commissioned by Sousa himself), the storyline is not very compelling, and Paget is bland, but Webb and Wagner are fun, Ruth Hussey gets a couple of good moments as Sousa's wife, and just when I would be ready to quit watching, there would be a rousing march or other musical number that kept me away from the remote. [FMC]

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