Orchestra Wives is a great example of a band fully integrated into the picture’s overall narrative. Glenn Miller and his orchestra are the object of affection of the titular spouses, and the characters to whom we’re introduced throughout are a mix of actors and real-life band members.
Naive small-town girl Connie (Ann Rutherford) is a fan of Gene Morrison and his band (Glenn Miller, presumably named as such so they didn’t have to change the initials on any of the instruments), particularly trumpet player Bill Abbott (George Montgomery). The two have one heck of a whirlwind romance, amounting to about two conversations and one implied instance of necking before they decide to get hitched. This allows her entry into the association of orchestra wives, a two-faced sorority of mean girls, eager to tear her down. Their main method of torture is the convenient fact that Bill’s ex, the deliciously vampy Jaynie Stevens (Lynn Bari), remains as the band’s singer, and travels alongside the boys, instead of in the back cars with the rest of the wives. This leads to tension and drama, as situations as this type are wont to do, and the strength of Bill and Connie’s relationship, built on admittedly tenuous bonds, is tested.
More so than many band cameos, Orchestra Wives is basically a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a popular orchestra. There’s a lot of great, energetic Glenn Miller numbers that give good insight into the popularity of the band at the time. Orchestra Wives also includes the first appearance of “At Last,” the soulful tune later made famous by Etta James, performed here as a duet.
The guys in the band also get some good jokes in–Gene offers a “thoughtful” gift to Connie as soon as he finds out she and Bill have been married… only for Connie to quickly discover he has the gifts mass-produced, and all the other wives have them too. Later in the movie, we get the classic scenario where a multitude of telegrams are sent out to various people, to lure them all to the same place. In this case, they’re trying to get the band back together, and each band member has gotten an invitation from another real band leader–Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, etc. I thought this was clever, and a fun moment for the audience making that connection.
Overall, it’s kind of a middling romantic comedy, but the inclusion of the Glenn Miller band makes for a fun historical context, and their energetic performances (along with a great, slippery dance number by the Nicholas Brothers towards the end of the picture) make for an entertaining watch.