The Glenn Miller Orchestra was the finest of big band ensembles. They were highly prolific in the 1940s for such songs as ‘Moonlight Serenade’ and ‘In The Mood.’
Unfortunately, the band didn’t appear in more films. 1941’s Sun Valley Serenade is one of only two films to feature them. They certainly shine as the brightest spots of this romantic comedy.
The film stars Glenn Miller as a band leader trying to get a decent gig. Their agent, played by Milton Berle, doesn’t offer up a whole lot of help.
The band decides to adopt a war refugee to gain some better press. They’re told they’ll be taking in a 10-year-old girl.
They didn’t count on the refugee being the lovely woman Karen Benson (Sonja Henie). She soon falls for the band’s pianist Ted Scott (John Payne). This doesn’t sit well with Ted’s girlfriend and the band’s soloist, Vivian Dawn (Lynn Bari).
Karen follows the band to their gig at a ski lodge in Sun Valley, Idaho. It is there that the band plays the earworm classic that is ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo.’
Miller starts by playing the trombone and signals the band to start playing with him. In comes the saxophones right alongside the trombones. The bass brings the beat, and the clarinets get some zip.
The band plays in a mesmerizing harmony, creating a train’s familiar sounds. The band also looks quite dapper in their suits. Check out the many close-up shots of the trombones that turn this performance into more of a music video.
Singers join as one band member invites more to join the song. He sings, ‘Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?’ It isn’t long before there’s an entire choir backing up the instruments.
But what would make this big band song even grander is some dancing. Thankfully, this film has two of the finest dancers to grace the big screen.
The Nicholas Brothers appear after a fade-out as the band-playing continues. They appear alongside a lead singer on a set that looks like a train station.
The Nicholas Brothers were known for their aggressive tap-dancing style. You can see just how well-coordinated they appear in this film. They slide, spin, and tap around in a manner where they’re both in sync as well as battling each other with moves.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra would also play in the motion picture Hollywood Hotel (1937). The Nicholas Brothers brought their tap dancing to such films as Down Argentine Way (1940) and Stormy Weather (1943).