Stars and Stripes Forever (DVD) Clifton Webb

Stars and Stripes Forever is a 1952 bio-pic Technicolor about 19th century composer John Philip Sousa, played by Clifton Webb. He is best known for his military marches, of which Stars and Stripes Forever is the best known.

While loosely based on Sousa's autobiography Marching Along, the film takes considerable liberties and dramatic license, often expanding and extrapolating on themes and passages in the book. Much of the film is devoted to a romance between fictional characters Willie Little (Robert Wagner), a musician who joins the U.S. Marine Band under Sousa (Clifton Webb), and Lily Becker (Debra Paget), an aspiring concert singer. In the film, Willie is credited with designing the Sousaphone and naming it after his mentor, while in real life, Sousa himself designed the instrument. The film follows Sousa from his days as head of the Marine Band to his leaving the Marine Corps to form his own band in 1892 (taking Willie and Lily with him) and the ups and downs of his band. A mention in the book that Sousa discouraged the married men in the band from bringing their wives on tour is expanded into a subplot where Willie and Lily elope and keep the marriage a secret to continue touring together. An episode where Sousa's Band plays at the Atlanta, Georgia Cotton States and International Exposition (1895),despite the sponsors' attempt to renege on their contract, the Civil War only over 30 years. The Colonel is concerned about a "Yankee" band; Sousa proceeds to tell of his selections with Dixie played after each piece. The crowd cheers each time for Dixie. This stays relatively close to fact.

The inspiration for the title march is depicted with a voiceover of Webb quoting Sousa's actual description of the event while at sea; however, the sea voyage in real life was due to Sousa and his wife rushing back to the U.S. from a vacation in Europe upon the sudden death of his manager, while in the film he takes the voyage to recover from illness contracted while attempting to resume military service during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Sousa then produces his operetta El Capitan with Lily as one of the castmembers, while Willie reenlists in the Marines but serves as an infantryman rather than as a musician. Willie loses a leg in a friendly fire incident in Cuba, but while recovering at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital, he is called upon to rejoin Sousa's band in a surprise concert, where the band plays the title march in public for the first time. (In real life, the march was first played publicly at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on May 14, 1897, much earlier than depicted.)

Clifton Webb as John Philip Sousa
Debra Paget as Lily Becker
Robert Wagner as Willie Little
Ruth Hussey as Jennie Sousa
Finlay Currie as Col. Randolph
Roy Roberts as Maj. Houston
Thomas Browne Henry as David Blakely (as Tom Browne Henry)

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