Saturday, October 7, 2017

June Allyson and James Stewart


Today, I'm writing about three films starring old Hollywood favorites June Allyson and James Stewart.

This article is part of The June Allyson Centenary Blogathon hosted by Champagne for Lunch.

During the 1950s, June Allyson and James Stewart were one of old Hollywood's top screen teams. The all-American pair made three wonderful films together that capitalized on their wholesome chemisty. In this article, I'll celebrate Allyson's 100th birthday -- she was born Oct. 7, 1917, in the Bronx -- with a look at all-three films and how you can watch them.

Allyson and Stewart  knew each other long before they made their first film together in 1949; in fact, they actually dated before they both married their respective spouses (Allyson married musical star turned noir icon Dick Powell in 1945 while Stewart married former model, Gloria McLean, in 1949). The pair eventually parted ways, but they remained good friends, and Allyson always liked to joke in interviews that it is was a good thing she and Jimmy didn't marry because her poor cooking skills would have made the already skinny Stewart practically invisible. 


Allyson and Stewart got their first chance to work together in the 1949 baseball biopic The Stratton Story, and their portrayal of a devoted couple who support each other during good and bad times served as a role model to young couples who were moving to the suburbs and starting families. Ironically, some fans actually thought that Allyson and Stewart were married, which led Powell to jokingly call Stewart "my wife's husband" whenever the couple were socializing together. Allyson and Stewart's last film together was the military movie Strategic Air Command in 1955, but they remained lifelong friends and Allyson wrote fondly of her friendship with the Stewart in her 1982 autobiography. 

The Stratton Story (1949), dir. Sam Wood


MGM chief Louis B. Mayer wanted Allyson's frequent co-star Van Johnson to star alongside her in the biopic of Chicago White Sox player Monty Stratton, but Stratton insisted that Stewart was the only actor who could adequately convey his journey from promising pitching prospect to amputee (Stratton lost a leg in a hunting accident). Allyson plays Stratton's devoted wife, Ethel, and the film follows the couple from the time they meet cute on a double date through marriage, parenthood, and Stratton's time in the big leagues.
Allyson shines in the second half of the movie which deals with Stratton's recovery from his devastating accident. She does everything and anything to improve the mood and health of her devastated husband, including essentially working as his pitching coach during his recovery (Allyson actually has a pretty good arm). The film's final scene, which portrays Stratton's comeback as a pitcher, is one of the most exciting baseball games in movie history. DVD and video on demand.

The Glenn Miller Story (1953), dir. Anthony Mann


Stewart had long wanted to play Glenn Miller, an Iowa farm boy turned orchestra leader whose swinging musical arrangements epitomized the big band era. Allyson plays his loyal wife, Helen, who deals with Miller's eccentricities and the setbacks in his early career with her usual perky optimism. 
The Glenn Miller Story is the best of Allyson and Stewart's three films: Mann's inventive direction lends a verve to what could have been a stodgy biopic and the musical numbers are all outstanding, particularly the "Basin Street Blues" sequence with Louis Armstrong. However, the best parts of the film focus on the Millers' quirky relationship with Allyson giving a fine performance as a woman who both adores her husband and enjoys teasing him. Allyson is particularly fine in the latter part of the movie, which showcases her considerable dramatic talents in a famous scene that features the old standard "Little Brown Jug." 8 p.m. EST Nov. 22 on TCM. DVD and video on demand.

Strategic Air Command (1955), dir. Anthony Mann

June Allyson and James Stewart share a laugh on the set of Strategic Air Command (1955).
Stewart and Allyson reteamed with Mann for a film that celebrates the pivotal role of the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War. Stewart plays a former World War II pilot turned baseball player who is called into active duty, and Allyson once again plays his loyal wife. Her role mostly involves stoically enduring the hardships and loneliness of a military wife while her husband is away flying top secret missions.
Both Allyson and Stewart do a fine job with the material they're given, although it must be said they are a little long in the tooth to be playing a young married couple. However, the movie's real highlights are its spectacular aerial sequences, which were made with the full cooperation of the Air Force. In fact, this movie would make great companion viewing with The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) and Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1962), which are two films that deal in a more cynical way with American air power during the Cold War. 9 a.m. EST Nov. 11 on TCM. Available for streaming on Amazon Prime. DVD and video on demand.



8 comments :

  1. I used to get all three movies jumbled up in my head when I was a kid. Couldn't figure out when Jimmy stopped being a baseball player to lead a band and fly!

    On one hand, the lack of a real sense of the time disappoints me about The Glenn Miller Story, but I love it for the music. Also, one of Glenn's musicians on an interview show said that the one thing the movie really got right was the love story between Glenn and Helen. He never knew a more devoted couple. We all pick up on that thanks to June and Jimmy.

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    1. I know what you mean about getting the movies jumbled. I always think of Strategic Air Command as The Glenn Stratton Story Flys an Airplane.

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  2. "Allyson always liked to joke in interviews that it is was a good thing she and Jimmy didn't marry because her poor cooking skills would have made the already skinny Stewart practically invisible." Haha, that's amazing!

    I've only seen The Stratton Story, so thanks so much for the heads up about the other two airing on TCM. These two really were wonderful together. And I love that photo of them on set.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon!

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  3. I've seen only The Glenn Miller Story, and it was very good - no wonder that it was renamed "Music and Tears" here in Brazil! Since I knew nothing about Miller's life, I was quite shocked.
    And, wow, I didn't know June and Jimmy had dated!

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    1. I don't think most modern Americans have a clue who Glenn Miller is either. Music and Tears is actually a good name for this movie.

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  4. Thanks for the heads-up about the dates on TCM. Especially The Glenn Miller Story, one of my favorites. I saw it when it came out!

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