JazzWax column by Marc Myers on favorite Christmas films. (The post doesn't seem to have a working permalink; it's dated December 25th.) As soon as I read the list, I knew what I wanted to watch for Christmas: the delightful SUN VALLEY SERENADE, which I hadn't seen since 2006.
SUN VALLEY SERENADE isn't precisely a Christmas movie, but the holiday is cozily in the background as Ted Scott (John Payne), Phil Corey (Glenn Miller), and their big band prepare to open at a Sun Valley resort on Christmas Eve. The festive December ski resort setting makes the film perfect viewing for this time of the year.
Phil has been cozying up to the band's new singer, Vivian Dawn (Lynn Bari), but their romance is complicated with the arrival of Karen Benson (Sonja Henie), a Norwegian war refugee sponsored by Phil. Karen is immediately smitten with Phil and does everything in her power to convince Phil that she's the right girl for him.
That's the extent of the plot, but 20th Century-Fox turned it into a wonderful feel-good movie which one IMDb reviewer described as "unbelievably enjoyable" and my dad lists as his all-time favorite 20th Century-Fox musical. Glenn Miller music, Sonja Henie skating, and an amazing specialty number by the Nicholas Brothers and Dorothy Dandridge add up to a very special movie. It's the kind of movie I watch with a smile on my face pretty much from beginning to end.
Henie was somewhat akin to Deanna Durbin, in that she had the ability to take a character who in other hands could be a spoiled brat and instead, with her megawatt smile, proves to be very appealing. Payne has to spend much of the movie being argumentative, but he has a couple opportunities to sing and, like Henie, when he smiles all is forgiven.
Lynn Bari was dubbed by Pat Friday, who also sang for her in the following year's Glenn Miller musical, ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942). The talented Bari starts out playing a woman who's a temperamental charmer, but once her competition enters the picture the temperamental side edges out the charm and she's stuck playing the cranky also-ran. That said, she remains fun to watch from start to finish.
The score is absolutely fantastic, including "I Know Why," "It Happened in Sun Valley," and "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," all of which are currently available to view on YouTube (click each title link). "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" is wonderfully sung by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and the Modernaires before the number transitions to Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers; some interesting trivia is that it hit number one on the charts on December 7th, 1941.
"Chattanooga Choo-Choo" was nominated for Best Song. The competition included "Blues in the Night" from the film of the same name," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" from BUCK PRIVATES, and "Baby of Mine" from DUMBO. The winner was "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from LADY BE GOOD.
Sonja's final skating routine is to "I Know Why" which is combined with another favorite Miller tune, "At Last," and the effect is magical. "At Last" would later reappear in my favorite scene in ORCHESTRA WIVES, sung by Pat Friday (for Lynn Bari) and Ray Eberle.
Good second unit location shooting adds much to the atmosphere, although it's clear stand-ins were used throughout, with the lead actors only appearing in front of back projections. The black and white photography was by Edward Cronjager.
SUN VALLEY SERENADE was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. It runs 86 minutes.
SUN VALLEY SERENADE has been released in the United States on VHS. To date it has not had a Region 1 DVD release; perhaps it will be released in the Fox Cinema Archives series in the months to come.
The movie was released on Region 2 DVD in Europe earlier this year.
It's also been shown in the past on Fox Movie Channel, so there's always a chance it may show up there again.
A trailer is currently on YouTube.
Recommended for wonderful entertainment in December -- or any other time of year!