This is an amusing little yarn on Sousa and his music. Being only about 90 minutes long the movie does not attempt to be comprehensive with his life, but concentrates instead on creating a portrait of him. Clifton Webb has Sousa's somewhat stiff, yet humorous personality down pretty well. The episodes depicted in the movie are brief vignettes, loosely based on some actual events. The Marine Corps probably did treat their March King in a rather off-hand manner as shown in the movie. Sousa did make the Marine Band from a 3rd rate emsemble into one of the best military bands in the country, and the Marines could not really offer him anymore than what they had already given him.
The truth is Sousa saw an opportunity to market himself to a growing American audience that was starting to become more sophisticated in its musical tastes. He would perfect the band tour concept. Others had done it before him, but Sousa would make himself into a super-star, and truly traveled the world. The movie accurately shows his formation of his own Sousa band after leaving the Marines in 1892. Where the movie strays a bit is with the silly sideline romance. Here we have the typical 1950s guy meets girl thing going on. It's cute, but kind of takes away from the subject matter. Its also hard to say whether this is a musical or not? There is a lot of singing and show numbers presented, based, supposedly on Sousa's music. We do get to hear some good versions of "Semper Fidelis" which is played ad noseum!
I would have liked this movie a lot more if it had been a little more serious and showcased some more of Sousa's music. He really did write more than just 10 marches you know! Plus countless classical transcriptions, overtures, songs, novely items and arrangements of old American folk music. Sousa was our most prolific composer, his music typifies an era that is no more in this country. The Sousa band didn't march as much as shown in the movie. The band was intended as a symphonic ensemble. Sousa had enough marching from his Marine days! His band was certainly accomplished, and had some very fine players in it. To say as Americans often do that it was the best in the world is a bit of Yankee over-statement. Compared to most bands in the US, yes, the Sousa band was among the best. Abroad in Europe there were many fine military bands that were just as good. Sousa knew this, and he was careful not to over-step his bounds. He received many fine praise from European audiences, and this must have pleased him very much indeed. Sousa knew that the Coldstream Guards in London, The Garde Du Corps in Berlin and many others were just as good, lacking only the showmanship and Sousa's ability to market himself and his band and music.
The movie shows the warm relationship Sousa had with his wife, who always supported him and his music. "Stars and Stripes" came into Sousa's mind whilst returning from abroad after he had learned that his manager had died in the States. The movie cleverly marches us into the Sousa legend at the end which is probably just as good an ending as any. This is an old style movie with a lot of cute touches in it. It provides a musical fastasy of Sousa and his times. You can get an idea of who the March King was by watching it, but in order to get a truer picture I would suggust Paul E. Bierly's biography "John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon"