Stars and Stripes Forever

 

Stars and Stripes Forever

[aka: John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever]

Based on the book “Marching Along” by John Philip Sousa

Adapted by Ernest Vajda

Screenplay by Lamar Trotti

Cinematography by Charles G. Clarke

Art Direction by Lyle Wheeler & Joseph C. Wright

Costume Design by Dorothy Jenkins

Produced by Hunter Lamar Trotti

Directed by Henry Koster

2011


Cast:

Clifton Webb

Robert Wagner

Debra Paget

Ruth Hussey


Production Studio:

Theatrical: 20th Century Fox

Video: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD25

Feature Size: 23.2 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (25-30 Mbps)

Runtime: 89 minutes

Chapters: 23

Region:


Audio:

English DTS-HD MA Mono

Spanish Dolby Digital Mono


Subtitles:

English SDH, French & Spanish


Extras:

• From Our National March to the Silver Screen (16:35)

• John Philip Sousa’s Contribution to American Music (6:35)

• Pressbook, Advertising & Galleries

• Original Theatrical Trailer


Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray Case: BRD x 1

Street Date: December 13, 2011


 

The Movie: 4

In the tradition of Hollywood musical biopics such as Night and Day (Cole Porter),  Till the Clouds Roll By (Jerome Kern), Words and Music (Rodgers & Hart), Three Little Words (Kalmar & Ruby) - arguably the best of its class, in my opinion - The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle, come this anthem to the one, the only: John Philip Sousa.


While it hits the high points of Sousa’s career: his stint in the Marine Band, his attempts to put himself over as a composer of serious song (think: Arthur Sullivan but not nearly as interesting),  the creation of his own band and its subsequent international tours and personal commendations by the monarchs of Europe, and the recognition of the Stars and Stripes Forever as one of only two pieces of music recognized in an official way by the American government (By an Act of Congress it is our National March), his story is distracted by a fiction so preposterous that it would be insulting if it weren’t for the attractiveness of its stars: Robert Wagner and Debra Paget.


   


Having said that, Paget’s character, a dance hall entertainer with a penchant for tight fitting outfits, flares up in fits of temper so silly and outrageous that it lopsides the movie out of any respectability it might have had.  Wagner, on the other hand, besides being gorgeous (OK, Natalie, I get it, now) plays the most interesting and most believable character in the movie - and this includes that of the redoubtable Mr. Webb, who does little but look down his nose in one fashion or another, though there are a couple of beautifully timed and crafted smiles.


In an effort to get all the historical bits in, the director, Henry Koster, and the writer/producer, Lamar Trotti (both of whom should know better) compose two montages so disconnected that the mind boggles.  One isn’t so much a montage as it is various views of the band at the Chicago World’s Fair, alternating with shots of an adoring audience in reverse angle - except that there is no master shot, we never see both audience and band nor do they seem to be in the same place at the same time. Later when the band is on tour there are several brief clips of vaudeville shows interspersed with clips of the band marching.  Words fail!


   


One final note, hmmmm, relates to one of my favorite bugaboos, the title.  I can see Stars and Stripes Forever, which is indeed what the movie is known as, and rightly so, but that’s not what it says on the title card, which reads (I kid thee not): John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever and which defies logic as well as common sense. I wouldn't say that Stars and Stripes Forever is the worst biopic musical ever made - that distinction might well belong to Night and Day but it is clumsy at best and damn near insufferable at times, especially when Paget’s character gets her dander up. Worse still, we don’t really get to feel the energy that Sousa and his band must have engendered.  Sousa deserved much better - and he gets it at last in The Music Man, which isn’t about Sousa at all, but what he conjures up in our imagination, and what Stars and Stripes Forever was supposed to have been about in the first place.


   


Image: 7/8

Stars and Stripes Forever gets the full Technicolor treatment, what with crimson red uniforms, sparkling brass instruments and ample smatterings of blue, white and black fabric.  Not satisfied with leaving almost well enough alone, the filmmakers made sure there would be plenty of color to go around thanks to several stage numbers featuring Debra Paget - not the first person one thinks of a the leading singer/dancer in a musical, n’est-ce pas, but she quits herself well enough, which is more than I can say for her costume designer who thought - and how wrong can a body be - that Miss Paget would look just stunning prancing about in white from neck to toe.  The source print is good, at times lovely, but not perfect: the most annoying thing being a tendency to color shift within the scene occasionally.  The aspect ratio is a little odd at 1.37:1, but who cares, really.


   


Audio: 8/9

You can hardly miss with the stirring music of John Philip Sousa.  But in case you think this movie is nothing but a string of marches, you would be in for quite a surprise.  There are a few songs - one put forth by one of the worst singing voices on screen - yes, that would be Clifton Webb.  It’s all part of a running gag that kicks itself in the shins when Sousa visits a local dance hall to audition one of his ballades: the audience boos the singer off the stage, but the sad truth is that he’s the best singer in the cast, and this includes whoever is dubbing for Debra Paget.


Back to the marches: there is a not inconsiderable amount of screen time devoted to one Sousa band or another, all sounding true in respect to timbre, and hardly a screech or distorted sound in the mix.  Quite an achievement!  The title march finale really catches the throat.


   


Extras: 5

In addition to a handful of Advertising Galleries and the Original Theatrical Trailer, the principle bonus features are two: “From Our National March to the Silver Screen,” hosted by Keith Brion, Director of the New Sousa Band; Miles Krueger, President of the Institute of the American Musical, and Marc Wanamaker, Film Historian.  Also featured is a six-minute segment “John Philip Sousa’s Contribution to American Music”, with Brion & Krueger along with Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, the Director of the USC Trojan Marching Band, that focuses on the importance of the sousaphone and the recognition of Stars and Stripes Forever in American music.  These two features are presented in acceptable 1.33:1 standard definition.


   


Recommendation: 5

Short of the coincidence between the release date of this disc and the date set for the official pullout of American troops in Iraq, there seems hardly a reason why Fox might have chosen to dust off such a third rate musical for a high definition presentation.  Except for the music - and I count myself an admirer of JPS and especially the Stars and Stripes - there’s very little to recommend this movie.  The transfer is decent, sometimes excellent, and the sound is outstanding for its time.  But the story and direction is not at all good, though the presence of a young, handsome and scene stealing Robert Wagner does help.


     

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

December 15, 2011




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