Orchestra Wives


Orchestra Wives, the 1942 Glenn Miller vehicle directed by Archie Mayo, reflects the whitening of jazz during the swing era. The second motion picture built to showcase the Glenn Miller Orchestra (following 1941's Sun Valley Serenade), Orchestra Wives concentrates on the performance space of swing era jazz as a site for social mixing of the genders. Meanwhile, the African-American roots of jazz, and the notion of jazz as an arena conducive to racial interaction, become invisible.

In the film, Connie, a young small-town swing fan meets and marries the trumpet player in the big band she idolizes. (Glenn Miller plays Gene Morrison, the leader of this fictional band.) She experiences difficulties adjusting to life on the road, which contrasts with her glamorous expectations. The other musicians' wives engage in malicious gossip, and her husband's ex-girlfriend Jaynie, the band's lead singer, plots to break up the marriage.

The film thus expresses uneasiness about the type of woman who would seek fame on the swing scene, criticizing her as unfemininely ambitious, while simultaneously presenting and benefitting from her performance.

Big band films such as Orchestra Wives showcased swing performances and celebrated swing musicians as philosophers creating music with the needs of young America in mind. Women were an integral part to swing performance, and were celebrated as long as they remained happy consumers or wives content to stay behind the scenes. (At the end of the film, Connie sees that Jaynie is kicked out of the band.)

In Clip 1, which highlight's the films gender tensions, Glenn Miller as Gene Morrison voices his philanthropic justification for the difficulties of touring. Clip 2 presents a characteristic big band-style swing era performance, while dramatizing the swing film genre's replacement of preoccupation with gender mixing for any acknowledgement of the racial issues at play in jazz.

The Glenn Miller Story Clip

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