Monthly Archives: June 2013

Celebrate July 4th with “Stars and Stripes Forever”

“Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) is a movie that provides viewers with a different way of celebrating the Fourth of July by relishing John Philip Sousa, his wife, and his music:

                                                             “Stars and Stripes Forever”

A Forgotten Gems Column by Bill Levy

© Bill Levy 2013


          During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Hollywood made numerous films in which the wife of a famous historical personality is the “power behind the throne.”  One of the best of these movies is Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) with Ruth Hussey as the wife of the famous “March King” John Philip Sousa (Clifton Webb). 

          Ruth Hussey often portrayed the calm sophisticated, knowing wife.  Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion characterizes many of her characters as “smart and competent.”  In Stars and Stripes Forever, she is superb as Jennie Sousa, an intelligent (and extremely attractive) spouse subtly guiding her brilliant but eccentric husband.   Whether she is “suggesting” that a new ballad he wrote be played as a march or educating him about the best ways to deal with a young couple (a very youthful Robert Wagner and a very radiant Debra Paget), Miss Hussey is wonderful. 

          Clifton Webb is also perfectly cast.  His John Philip Sousa is pompous but somehow endearing, stiff yet quite vulnerable and human.  Sousa is far more than the stereotypical absent-minded music professor and is more perceptive than his wife realizes.   His dedication to his music, his subtle sense of humor, and his arrogant stare create a life-like person and personality that earned Webb a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination.

          Stars and Stripes Forever depicts the story of Sousa’s famous band focusing on its formation and its popular tours during the Gilded Age of the 1890s.  The film is filled with patriotic music including Sousa’s great marches “El Capitan,” “Washington Post,” “King Cotton,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” as well as Julia Ward Howe and William Steffe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” John Sanderson’s “Hail to the Chief,” and Daniel Decatur Emmett’s “Dixie.”

          This Fox production was directed by Henry Koster and scripted by Ernest Vajda and the movie’s producer Lamar Trotti.  The picture was based on Sousa’s autobiography, Marching Along.  Academy Award winner George Chakiris appears in the film as a ballroom dancing extra.  Ruth Hussey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the cynical photographer, Elizabeth Imbrie in The Philadelphia Story (1940).  Clifton Webb, born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck, was nominated twice for Best Supporting Actor Oscars; (for his Waldo Lydecker in Laura [1944] and his Elliott Templeton in The Razor’s Edge [1946]), and for Best Actor as Mr. Belvadere in Sitting Pretty (1948).   

          So, as an alternative to watching those endless war films on and around the Fourth of July, try something different and experience a movie that will not only stir up the patriotic juices but will also give you the opportunity to witness a successful marriage of strong-minded individuals who together created great happiness for themselves and for millions of others.

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