Monday, March 7, 2016

Sun Valley Serenade

A movie I got around to watching off of my DVR over the weekend is Sun Valley Serenade. It's showing up tomorrow morning at 7:25 AM on FXM Retro, so you have another chance to catch it.

The movie starts off at what looks like a recording studio. A big band is auditioning for the had of the Sun Valley, ID ski resort, hoping to win the lucrative contract to perform over the Christmas season. However, there's a dispute between the arranger and their singer, Vivian Dawn (Lynn Bari). By a stroke of good luck, another orchestra, led by Glenn Miller (although he actually has a character name and technically isn't playing himself) showed up. And when Vivian stiffs the first orchestra, Glenn's arranger and pianist Ted Scott (John Payne) offers Vivian a song to sing with them. This gets Miller's band the job, much to the delight of all the members and their manager Nifty (Milton Berle). Especially deligted is Ted, who is clearly in love with Vivian. She likes him, but isn't necessarily ready for a permanent relationship yet.

So they're off to Sun Valley. Well, not just yet. They had been out of work for a while, and to try to drum up publicity and possible work, Nifty came up with a publicity stunt that's about to turn around and bite them in the rear end. With the war going on in Europe (Sun Valley Serenade was released a few months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor), Nifty got Ted to sponsor a refugee, thinking that the band helping raise a refugee child would be great publicity. And now with them about to set off for Sun Valley, they've been informed that their refugee is arring in New York soon. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, at least until they get to the harbor and meet their refugee. She is an all grown-up Karen (Sonja Henie). Karen makes matters worse by deciding, when she finds that Ted doesn't have a wife, that she's going to convince him to marry her. Vivian isn't going to like that.

Nifty tries to get Karen to stay with his aunt so that she won't screw things up for the band, but Karen convinces Nifty to let her go to Sun Valley too, although they don't tell anybody else about this. They're right not to tell anybody else about it, since Ted's none too pleased when he finds out, while Vivian really starts to get ticked when she sees how much time Karen is spending with Ted. Of course, since Sonja Henie is top-billed, you can probably guess what's going to happen in the last reel. Well, the last reel before the ice capades begin.

Sun Valley Serenade is a movie that I'd have qualms about recommending for its lousy plot. It's predictable, and Karen is frankly a bit of a jerk. She needed Fredric March and Myrna Loy from The Best Years of Our Lives to ask her if she was going to break up Vivian and Ted's relationship with an axe. And yet we're supposed to sympathise with her even though there's little sign that Vivian and Ted would ever have been unhappy if Karen hadn't shown up. There's some good cinematography, at least as well as you can do with black-and-white photography of scenery. The location shooting cries out for Technicolor. But there's also some truly horrible rear-projection scenes.

That having been said, Sun Valley Serenade is still worth watching. That's because it's got the music of Glenn Miller. And you can't possibly go wrong with that. Miller plays his old hits "Moonlight Serenade" and "In the Mood", and introduces "Chattanooga Choo-Choo", which was nominated for an Oscar. This last song is particularly worth mentioning, since it's an extended musical number that, after showing off Miller's orchestra, switches to a dance number with a very young Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers. They, like Glenn Miller, are well worth watching.

Overall, Sun Valley Serenade certainly deserves one viewing. You may even enjoy the story a lot more than I did. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you'll have to catch it on FXM before they put it back in the vault.

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