Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Sun Valley Serenade (1941)

Christmas morning my dad forwarded to me a 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.

The supporting cast includes Milton Berle as the band's P.R. man and Joan Davis as a resort employee. The supporting cast includes Almira Sessions, Mel Ruick, Ann Doran, Gary Gray, Lynne Roberts, and Fred "Snowflake" Toones.

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!


Blogger Silver Screenings said...

This looks like a terrific Winter/Holiday movie. Thanks for recommending!

12:54 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, this is somewhat "off topic" but has to do with the Fox MOD Program.
Has anyone (or anyone that you might know) actually SEEN any of the Fox MOD CinemaScope discs? So far, at least three have been released "Fraulein" (which was, incredibly, released panned-and-scanned as the reviewer actually saw it)"Night People" and "A Hatful Of Rain"......I know that "Night People" and "A Hatful Of Rain" have been shown in their widescreen format on the Fox Movie Channel. I'd like to buy these two but I'm VERY hesitant because I don't want to spend my $ and be stuck with a lousy P&S copy......Has anyone "out there" reading this actually seen these discs? I've read no reviews of them anywhere........


3:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hope you can catch it, SilverScreenings!

Brad, from what I'm hearing the widescreen-era films released in the Fox MOD programs should be approached with caution. They seem to be releasing some of them pan and scan, just as they sometimes show them in that format on Fox Movie Channel, which I've never understood.

You might want to keep an eye on a discussion thread at the Home Theater Forum, particularly posts by JoHud who is writing thumbnail reviews of the DVDs in this line as he watches them.

So far I am not seeing many other reviews of the Fox MOD line, although there are some on the DVD Beaver site. For instance, they say the '40s film THE BRASHER DOUBLOON is a disappointing release which comports with a comment at the Home Theater Forum. But while I've felt the prints of other '40s films I've reviewed on my blog have been very nice looking, DVD Beaver can be tougher on them, so opinions will vary. I'm not sure if DVD Beaver has reviewed any of the widescreen Fox releases yet.

Best wishes,

4:05 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

CinemaScope originated at Fox--it almost defies belief that they could trash their own history by releasing 'Scope movies P&S. I will not watch movies this way anymore, and had really wanted to see FRAULEIN again. I taped CIRCLE OF DECEPTION when Fox Channel showed it then found it was P&S and had to let it go--I really wanted to see that again too.

I am not boycotting Fox MOD--they are putting things out that I want to have so have bought a few, and greatly appreciated having a copy of WAY OF A GAUCHO which I watched last week and is a pretty good transfer of that very beautiful Technicolor movie. But at this point I will only buy pre-Scope movies unless someone I know tells me they have seen it and it is in the proper format.

11:48 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

I'm with you Blake!


7:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Brad, my dad did some checking and Amazon and customer reviews indicate NIGHT PEOPLE and A HATFUL OF RAIN were released pan & scan, and since they were 2.35 they should definitely be letterboxed!

Like Blake I am happy to buy the pre-widescreen titles, and as I mentioned I've been quite happy with my purchases to date -- both the pictures and the ability to see some relatively rare titles such as THE MAN I MARRIED, THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA, and SECRET AGENT OF JAPAN. Hopefully they will pull their act together re the widescreen movies!

Best wishes,

11:48 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Thanks so much Laura (and thank your Dad too!)! I'll stay away from them......I find it absolutely ridiculous that Fox would release a CinemaScope film panned-and-scanned on their MOD program when the exact same film has been shown on the Fox-Movie-Channel in WideScreen! Absolutely incredible......
I was HOPING that we would get not only Fox's "A" widescreen films in their proper aspect-ratio (the CinemaScope films) but that we would, at long last, see the "B" films (the RegalScope pictures) such as "Copper Sky" and others in THIER proper aspect-ratio also. Looks like I can forget that......
I hope somebody from Fox is reading this: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

2:09 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

To add insult to injury, "Night People" is viewable in widescreen on YouTube for cryin' out loud!! As is "King Of The Khyber Rifles", "Untamed" "Beneath The 12-Mile Reef" and Lord-only-knows how many others! I GIVE UP!!

5:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Brad, I so totally feel your pain!! It really is hard to understand their policies in this regard. Perhaps at some point our opinions will be heard -- after all, we are willing to support widescreen releases with our pocketsbooks!

Best wishes,

5:14 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

I saw the library had Sun Valley Serenade and so ordered it. Just got and unfortunately as with most VHS it just would not play properly no matter how much tracking I tried. So I went to YouTube and lo and behold at this time the whole movie is there. So I am watching it now before it mysteriously disappears ;) Here is a link:

5:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so glad you were able to watch it despite your first source not working out, Irene! Hope you enjoyed it. :)

Best wishes,

6:36 PM  

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