Making the Grades
The story is forgettable, but if you love the music of Glenn Miller (and I openly admit my bias in his favor), Orchestra Wives will provide more than enough good reasons to sit down and give this DVD your attention. But first... the forgettable story...
Gene Morrison (Glenn Miller) is beginning to hit the big time with his big band, but the tours are taking their toll on his players and their wives who come along for the ride. The road trips have created a tenuous bond between three of the women, who spend their time nipping at each other's backs. Also along is Jaynie (Lynn Bari), a singer who is the band's only single female. Meanwhile, some of the confirmed bachelors in the orchestra would rather continue to be free agents in the romantic world, especially trumpeter Bill Abbot (George Montgomery) and his buddy Sinjin (Cesar Romero).
The two playboys spend their off time cruising the audiences and streets in the towns where they play, using dusty pickup lines like, "Got a match?" But when Bill meets a young lass in the front row who melts at the sound of his trumpet, a new match is struck, and the flame will be hot enough to singe the other orchestra wives.
Joining the tight circle, Connie (Ann Rutherford) discovers a perceived friend in Jaynie, who appears supportive and accepting of the new recruit. Yet, during their high-speed twenty-four hour courtship, Connie's new groom forgot to mention that he and Jaynie were once quite the item, and that Jaynie still isn't completely ready to admit defeat in her quest for Bill. Needless to say, this circumstance will contribute to the rise in tension during the course of the movie.
Thankfully, the nitpicking is punctuated by something far more impressive--watching Glenn Miller and his orchestra (who play under the fictitious name of Gene Morrison's Orchestra) dish out some great songs. The band was on fire at this point in time, but all would be lost just two years after this movie was made, when the great bandleader would die in a plane crash during World War II.
Made during a thankless period when only the most important leads in a movie received credit for their work, it is interesting to note that Miller's actual band members play roles in this film. Singer and sax player Tex Beneke, the original Modernaires--the vocal group that often accompanied Miller's band and included vocalists Ray Eberle (who later would sing with his brother under the Eberle Brothers banner) and Marion Hutton, are only a few of the significant faces on the screen.
There are few content concerns, other than nearly continuous smoking, a tussle between the women that leads to a few slaps, and the chauvinistic male attitudes common for the time period.
Otherwise, the film is a great opportunity to introduce a new generation to this significant period in musical history. Watching this band's energy is thrilling, and this movie represents one of the few moments in which we can still enjoy watching the great Glenn Miller and his Orchestra.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Orchestra Wives.
This film is a great discussion opener regarding popular music. Glenn Miller was as popular with young people during his day as major rock and hip-hop artists are today. How have music and presentation styles changed? What things are similar?
Men in this film are often condescending toward women, and make remarks inferring you hunt down a woman and keep her as your trophy. Do all of the male characters in this movie act this way? Even though these portrayals appear outdated and even perhaps offensive by modern standards, have such attitudes really disappeared? In what forms do we see women presented as “trophies” in today’s popular culture?