SUN VALLEY SERENADE was the 9th most popular picture of 1941, and it’s easy to see why: a breezy story with charming leads, neat skiing and skating sequences, several classic tunes performed by America’s most popular big band, and a dazzling dance number from two of the hottest hoofers in history. For 86 happy minutes, this crowd-pleaser took anxious minds off the approaching storm.
‘Ted Scott’ (John Payne), piano player for a swing orchestra, takes advice from manager ‘Nifty Allen’ (Milton Berle) and adopts an orphan girl from Nazi-occupied Norway. To their surprise the girl isn’t a tot, but a full-grown ‘Karen Benson’ (Sonja Henie) who takes an immediate and undisguised shine to flustered Ted. During a Christmas gig in Idaho’s mountain resort of Sun Valley, the band loses lead singer ‘Vivian Dawn’ (Lynn Bari), jealous over the alluring adoptee and Ted’s growing affection for Karen’s skills at downhill racing, Axel jumping, and throwing “forward passes”.
“Look, I said I’d take a child, I didn’t say I’d take a… well, she’s too big for her age!”
Payne and Henie spark off one another (she’s quite appealing here), Berle does well-calculated mugging schtick, and Glenn Miller is the leader of the band (his own, featuring Tex Beneke and Ray Anthony). Henie’s skating scenes include her light-speed twirls, with one performance strikingly staged on ice dyed black for the number. The humor isn’t forced, and the music is terrific, including “Moonlight Serenade”, “In The Mood” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”.
“Choo-Choo” is a special highlight: after Miller and his band let rip they’re followed up by a reprise spin from Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers: the brothers amazing dance moves draw gasps of admiring mirth. The tune, written by Harry Warren & Mack Gordon, was Oscar nominated, along with Edward Cronjager’s sharp cinematography and the zesty music score whipped up by David Buttolph and Cyril J. Mockridge, though the last two were uncredited in favor of musical director Emil Newman, brother to Alfred and Lionel, uncle of Thomas, Randy, David and Maria.
Made for $1,300,000, it churned up $7,300,000. Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone, written by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan. With Joan Davis, William P. Davidson (busy in ’41, with sixteen credits), The Modernaires, and Ann Doran.
* Apparently, this was one of Hitler’s favorite American films, along with King Kong, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Lives Of A Bengal Lancer. So at least Adolf had good taste in movies, though it’s doubtful der Führer cared much for any of our goodies rolled out following his declaring war on us four days after his ally bombed Pearl Harbor. If you liked A-flicks, you’re gonna love our B-17s.
V for Vivacious—Payne and Henie reteamed the next year in Iceland.