Pairing wine with movies! See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies, and many more, at Trailers From Hell. This week, we have three films which feature the swingin’ sounds of the big bands, and a wine pairing for each.
The music we are dealing with this time is more than soundtrack fodder or score. The music is the focal point. We’re going back decades to relive the sounds that were “a hit before your mother was born.” Maybe even before your grandmother.
In 1942’s Orchestra Wives, Glenn Miller plays the leader of a big band. It wasn’t a stretch for him, since that’s what he was in real life. The story centers on the jealousy that arises in one of the musicians’ wives due to his previous relationship with the cute little singer in the orchestra. It’s a malaise that soon infects the whole band, as one wife after another falls victim to the green-eyed monster. It seems that the band members’ wives all travel with the tour, something which would change in the rock era so that guitar players would be free to have a honey in every city along the way. I’m told that bass players and drummers had to work a little harder.
The songs include the great “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo,” which, with its “a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h” walk-up to the title line would have made a nice Sesame Street segment. Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” sneaks in over the credits. It was a huge hit on the radio back then and it’s a shame they didn’t market soundtrack albums the way they do now. Of course, the 12-inch vinyl record didn’t become a thing until well after this movie was made. Look for Jackie Gleason, Harry Morgan and even Dale Evans in uncredited performances where Gleason, especially, steals the scene.
Miller broke up the band in 1942 so he could volunteer to join the U.S. Army Air Force. A plane that was carrying him from London to Paris in 1944 disappeared over the English Channel and he was never heard from again. It was a national catastrophe for such a beloved entertainer to be killed – especially in a time of war. Speculation on why the plane vanished has run the gamut, from pilot error to frozen fuel lines to friendly fire to assassination.
Legh Knowles was a trumpeter with the Glenn Miller Orchestra back in the day, and he went on to become chairman of Napa Valley’s Beaulieu Vineyards. Their Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon tops out at $150, but we will opt for “Maestro,” their $35 Sauvignon Blanc, in honor of the great Glenn Miller.
Rhapsody in Blue is the 1945 biopic about the life of composer George Gershwin. It’s a fictionalized account – Gershwin’s actual life must not have been exciting enough for Hollywood. Critics have slammed the movie for that, and – oddly – for having too much music in it. Nearly complete versions of Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris are featured in the film, along with “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, so it is a treasure trove for Gershwin fans.
Like Miller, Gershwin also died young. It was a brain tumor that got him when he was just 38 years old. If you want even more of Gershwin’s music in a movie, try Woody Allen’s 1979 film, Manhattan. It is brimming full of Gershwin originals, if you haven’t yet canceled Allen and his works from your life.
Opolo Vineyards has the perfect wine for Rhapsody. In fact, it is named “Rhapsody,” a Paso Robles Boudreaux blend described as plush and lush, a lot like Gershwin’s music.
Footlight Parade, from pre-Code 1933, features the sort of racy jokes and scanty costumes that disappeared for decades after the Hays Code “cleaned up” moving pictures for America’s tender sensibilities. James Cagney pressed hard for the lead role, and got it. The former vaudeville hoofer plays a guy who makes short live musicals – prologues – which were shown in big movie houses before the film. It was Cagney’s first chance to dance on the big screen, an opportunity that dwindled as he took on his more well-known gangster persona.
Joan Blondell co-stars as Cagney’s secretary and love interest. The action concerns the creation and presentation of three spectacular show-openers over a span of just three days. Some of the dialogue is risqué, but seems quaint by today’s standards.
Cagney once owned a summer estate on Martha’s Vineyard – way before it became a haven for immigrants looking for work. Right across Buzzard’s Bay is Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery. They make a wide range of tasty wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, which are worthy of a Cagney pairing.