Sonja Henie straps on the blades to catch her man. Image: dkjf dkfj

Sonja Henie straps on the blades. Image:

Today we’re bringing you a movie with figure skating.

No, wait! Don’t go. Hear us out first.

Sun Valley Serenade is a film starring Sonja Henie who, in the 1930s-40s, was the most famous figure skater in the world. (She was famous because she won 10 world figure skating championships in a row. Plus, she won three gold medals at three different Olympic Games. Also in a row.)

So why wouldn’t she go to Hollywood and make skating pictures? She was photogenic, winsome and ambitious. “I want to do with skates what Fred Astaire is doing with dancing,” she said.

She did. Her movies made piles of money for Twentieth Century-Fox. According to her obituary in the New York Times, her 11 films with the studio grossed $25 million. (That’s over $300 million in today’s dollars, adjusting for inflation.)

Yup, we hear you. It’s hard to imagine films with skating and flimsy plots as Must See Movies. But you might be surprised. Let’s look at today’s example from 1941.

Sun Valley Serenade stars John Payne as a big band musician who is booked, along with his band, for a gig at a fancy-schmancy ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho. But get this: the band is actually the Glenn Miller Orchestra, a wildly popular group during World War II.

Glenn Miller and his orchestra audition for a gig in Sun Valley. Image: YouTube

Even Glenn Miller has to audition for the gig in Sun Valley. Image: YouTube

The band is managed by a fast-talking Milton Berle who has the best lines in the film, e.g.: “Money doesn’t mean a thing to me. It’s the last thing I think of – before I go to bed.”

In an attempt to score publicity for the band, Berle arranges for the members to “adopt” a child refugee from war-ravaged Europe. Due to an immigration mix-up, the “child” they collect is Henie, freshly arrived from Norway. She is assigned to Payne’s care and subsequently falls in love with him. Payne, however, is uninterested, having just become involved with the glamorous Lynn Bari.

The rest of the movie is spent with Henie chasing Payne, and employing all sorts of tricks to make the poor slob fall in love with her. (Truthfully, if we were one of the characters in this film, we would be somewhat afraid of Henie and her Stop-At-Nothing-To-Get-My-Man M.O.)

Yet, there’s so much more to this charming film. The witty lines, for one, plus the Travis Banton wardrobe and the enticing exterior shots of picturesque Sun Valley. There’s also exhilarating ski footage, i.e. real skiing on a real mountain.

We haven’t even talked about the cinematography. Director H. Bruce Humberstone has crafted some original shots, especially when it comes to Glenn Miller’s energetic Orchestra. There are heaps of artistic musical performances. It’s MTV for the 1940s!

But it wouldn’t be a Sonja Henie film without this:

Henie in a breathtaking finale. Image: YouTube

Henie in a breathtaking finale. Image: YouTube

Because the movie stars world-renowned Sonja Henie, there must be glamorous figure skating, and we’re not disappointed. Henie provides us with a Grand Skating Finale, and it’s perfect. She performs incredible spins in her routine; it’s a wonder her blades don’t drill a hole through the ice. Her skating is graceful and gorgeous, and when it’s finished you want to watch it all over again.

 Sun Valley Serenade will make you long for winter adventures in crisp mountain air. It will also show you why Sonja Henie became a big deal in 1930s pop culture.

You can watch Sun Valley Serenade free on YouTube.
You can read Vanity Fair‘s fascinating profile of Sonja Henie HERE.

Sun Valley Serenade: starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, Glenn Miller. Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. Written by Robert Ellis, Helen Logan. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1941, B&W, 87 mins.

This post is part of the Winter Sports Blogation hosted by Le Mot du Cinephiliaque. Click HERE to see today’s fab entries.


Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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