Stars and Stripes Forever
Based on his autobiography, John Philip Sousa leaves the Marine Corps to tour with his own brass band to play his stirring marches, and he is joined by a young musician and a beautiful singer he marries.
John Philip Sousa (Clifton Webb) has been director of the Marine Corps Marching Band for twelve years and leads the “Washington Post March.” Willie Little (Robert Wagner) is disciplined for leaving the post to drink, and he tells Sousa that he invented a bass tuba he calls the sousaphone.
Sousa sings his new ballad for his wife Jennie (Ruth Hussey) as she plays piano. She laughs and speeds it up to a march. Willie comes in with his sousaphone and invites Sousa to a concert of his ballads. Women are displayed, and the police raid. Lily Becker (Debra Paget) leaves with them in a tight dress. At the Sousa home Willie asks her to sing. He plays piano as she sings “Father’s Got ‘em” and dances.
Sousa conducts “Hail to the Chief” for President Harrison. They play “Semper Fidelis,” and Sousa is given an award. Sousa says he needs more money, and he leaves the Marine Corps to form a brass band. Willie is allowed to join him. Sousa announces they will play popular songs and tour without wives. Sousa hires an opera singer and top musicians in New York.
Lily quits her singing lesson. When Willie kisses her, she kicks him in the shin. Lily asks Jennie how to be a lady, and Jennie suggests that she kiss Willie back. Willie and Lily rent a boat and kiss. She responds in kind, and he asks her to marry.
Sousa has Lily demonstrate a new dance—the two-step. On a train Sousa sees Willie join Lily at night and tells Jennie, who says they are married.
In Atlanta their show was cancelled, but Sousa has his band play “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with Negro singers. They tour Europe.
Sousa’s band plays for a performance of “Springtime in New York,” and Lily sings “The Bowery.” Sousa and Willie enlist in 1898 in the war against Spain. Sousa is rejected and at sea composes “El Capitan.” Sousa, Jennie, and Lily get a letter from Willie about how his knee was wounded in Cuba.
Willie returns when the war is over. Lily visits him in a hospital and takes him to a concert. Sousa asks Willie to join the band. They play “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Soldiers are seen marching, and Sousa leads a marching band.
This musical biopic features stirring marches and a fictionalized story of a young couple who learn from the loving example of the Sousas. American militarism has caused the US Government to spend more money on its military bands than on the entire budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. Martial music is exciting, but the consequences of war are not pretty.