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Archie Mayo
George Montgomery, Ann Rutherford, Glenn Miller, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Lynn Bari, Carole Landis, Cesar Romero, Virginia Gilmore, Mary Beth Hughes
Writing Credits:
James Prindle (story), Karl Tunberg, Darrell Ware

It's Hep! It's Hot! It's Hilarious!

A new bride faces the strain of life on the road in this musical romance that features the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Miller is featured as band leader Gene Morrison, who embarks on a whirlwind national tour with his orchestra. While on the tour, trumpeter Bill Abbott (George Montgomery) impulsively marries one of his many ardent fans, a naïve young women named Connie (Ann Rutherford). At first Connie is more than willing to put up with such problems as not spending time with her new husband and the malicious gossip of other wives. But when she comes to believe that Bill is still involved with an old flame, the ensuing quarrel threatens to end both the new marriage and the entire band.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Stereo
English Monaural

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 11/1/2005

• Audio Commentary with Actors Fayard Nicholas and Ann Rutherford
• Still Gallery
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Orchestra Wives: Fox Studio Classics (1942)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 2, 2006)

Can one enjoy a music-heavy flick if one doesn’t dig the tunes featured? Sure, as long as the movie in question manages to succeed in other areas. Unfortunately, that doesn’t occur with 1942’s dated and goofy Orchestra Wives.

Cute young Connie Ward (Ann Rutherford) loves the swing music made by the Gene Morrison Orchestra, and she especially digs the work of star trumpet player Bill Abbot (George Montgomery). When the band comes to town, she attends the show and hooks up with playboy Bill. He convinces her to travel the next night so she can see another performance – and he can get a little small-town nookie.

Connie does so, but a snag means they can only spend a few minutes together. To change that situation, Bill impetuously proposes to Connie, and she agrees. They immediately wed and she hits the road with the band.

There she meets the other “orchestra wives” and enters into their snippy little world. Naïve and innocent Connie also suffers a challenge from singer Jaynie Stevens (Lynn Bari), a bandmate and former flame of Bill’s. Not content to give him up without a fight, Jaynie connives to break up the new marriage. The movie follows the love triangle and its repercussions.

Perhaps I’m as naïve as Connie, but I didn’t expect to find so much cynicism in a movie from 1942. Usually this kind of film would be pie in the sky, ain’t love grand tripe. Instead, it digs into its story from a dark, bitter point of view. Very little true love reigns on the road, as affairs prosper and everyone screws over somebody. This takes its toll on poor Connie as she tries to keep her marriage together.

I suppose I should appreciate these elements, as they make Wives livelier than I thought it’d be. Based on the first act, I anticipated a movie with about five seconds of story mixed into a never-ending series of performance sequences. After all, it uses the Glenn Miller Band as the Morrison Orchestra and even features Glenn himself and some of the guys in acting roles. (I hope none of them quit their day jobs; Miller wasn’t effective even though he essentially played himself.)

With a big name like Miller onboard, I figured we’d find little more than a showcase for his music. However, after the first 20 minutes or so, much of the movie eschews their stage performances to focus on Connie’s problems. It revives the tunes with its grand finale but doesn’t boast nearly as much music as I anticipated.

And that was fine with me. As I implied at the start of this review, big band music isn’t my cup of tea. I bear no animosity toward the genre, but I can’t say it gives me any pleasure. 90 minutes of Miller and company isn’t a prospect that appeals to me.

Because of that, I welcomed the plot elements and was pleased that the movie attempted to be more than just a cavalcade of music. If only the filmmakers had bothered to create a more substantial story, this might have been a good flick. While more substantial than I expected, by no stretch of the imagination would I call Wives a memorable or well-made movie.

Part of the problem stems from the thin characters. Connie goes from wide-eyed naif to embittered schemer in the drop of a hat, and none of Rutherford’s performance seems even remotely convincing. At least she shows some development. I can’t say the same for the others. Even Bill comes across as unchanged by the end of the movie. I suppose he settles down and loses his womanizing ways, though those elements never do appear believable.

Ultimately, Wives proves interesting for its historical status. Not only does it feature the legendary Miller Band, but also it includes some small roles for a couple of actors who would later earn fame. Best known as Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H, Harry Morgan pops up as the soda jerk with the hots for Connie. We also find Jackie Gleason as a band member. Neither seems memorable in their parts, but it’s fun to see them in their younger days. Also keep an eye out for Dale Evans sans Roy Rogers in a quick turn.

Other than as a game of “Spot the Star”, Orchestra Wives boasts little enduring value. Surprisingly cynical and catty, it suffers from weak characters and a lackluster story. It doesn’t entertain well and ends up as a forgettable little flick.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C-/ Bonus C

Orchestra Wives appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. An erratic picture, I found more problems here than I expected.

One of the main issues stemmed from issues with definition. Sharpness varied a lot and usually seemed lackluster. Many parts of the film offered acceptable delineation, but I saw more than a few soft shots. Those created a generally murky look for the movie. No signs of jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, but some fairly prominent edge enhancement gummed up the works throughout the flick.

Blacks tended to be fine, with some reasonably deep tones. Shadows were a little iffy, partially because the movie looked grainy. The grain made darker shots all the more difficult to discern. Other source flaws created concerns. I saw occasional signs of specks and grit, but bigger distractions came from the general muck that appeared in many shots. The movie simply seemed dingy at times. All of these issues conspired to make this a mediocre “C-“ transfer.

I didn’t think the Stereo soundtrack of Orchestra Wives made a consistently positive impression either. Actually, the soundfield managed to broaden the movie’s many musical sequences well. Stereo imaging wasn’t precise, as it tended to simply spread the songs across the front without much real definition. However, it sounded surprisingly lively and lacked the mushiness I feared it’d present.

Unfortunately, the rest of the soundscape suffered from exactly that form of tentative imaging. Speech lacked focus, as the lines blended uncomfortably across the front speakers. The occasional effects worked the same way, as nothing ended up in clear locations. The broadened soundfield worked okay for the music but it negated those positives with the mushiness of everything else.

I found the quality of the audio to be similarly erratic. Again, music succeeded, as the songs and score were pretty bright and lively. Unfortunately, speech suffered from excessive reverb and usually seemed loose and hollow. Effects followed suit with similar tones, though they played too small a role in the movie to create many consequences. Occasional instances of noise and hiss popped up, but those weren’t big distractions. Ultimately, the unfocused soundfield and the excessive echo for the speech led this one to a “C-“.

A smattering of extras fill out the package. The main attraction comes from an audio commentary with actors Fayard Nicholas and Ann Rutherford. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. However, don’t expect a ton of “screen-specific” material, as the actors reminisce about general elements more than they discuss the film.

Occasionally the actors reflect on their costars and the creation of Wives. We get passable notes on various production issues. Most of the time they talk about their careers and the period in general. We find some decent material here, but too much of it falls into the “remember the good old days” category. This gets a bit tedious, especially when Rutherford goes off on a rampage about how bad modern music is. Since Rutherford apparently considers anything recorded since 1954 as “modern”, she comes across like a grumpy old lady. There’s not a lot of strong information in this track, though fans of older performers may enjoy it.

In addition to a lackluster 10-picture Still Gallery, we find some trailers. We get an ad for Orchestra Wives as well as promos for A Letter to Three Wives, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Anna and the King of Siam and Desk Set.

At 97 minutes, Orchestra Wives makes sure it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Nonetheless, it still manages to become so silly and melodramatic that I welcomed its conclusion. A dated and goofy affair, it remains interesting only for historical value. The DVD presents mediocre picture and audio along with some lackluster extras. This is a passable DVD for a forgettable movie.

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