Ted Scott (John Payne) is a band pianist whose publicity manager decides that, for good press, the band should adopt a foreign refugee. The band goes to Ellis Island to meet the girl and soon discovers that the refugee isn't a 10-year-old child, but a young woman, Karen Benson (Sonja Henie). The surprise comes right before the band is to travel to Sun Valley, Idaho for a Christmas gig. While on the ski slopes Ted soon falls for Karen's inventive schemes to win the heart of her new sponsor, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Vivian Dawn (Lynn Bari), a soloist with the band. Vivian promptly quits the band out of jealousy, and Karen stages an elaborate ice show as a substitute.
Of particular note is the elaborate "Chattanooga Choo Choo" sequence. The scene begins at a rehearsal with the Glenn Miller Orchestra practising "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and includes two choruses of the song whistled and sung by Tex Beneke in a musical exchange with The Modernaires. As the Miller band concludes their feature the camera pans left to reveal a railway station set. The band continues with the production number and accompanies Dorothy Dandridge and The Nicholas Brothers in their song and dance routine.
Sun Valley Serenade is the first of the only two movies featuring The Glenn Miller Orchestra (the other is 1942's Orchestra Wives). Besides "Chattanooga Choo Choo", other Glenn Miller tunes in the film are "Moonlight Serenade", "It Happened in Sun Valley", "I Know Why (And So Do You)", and "In the Mood".
An instrumental version of "At Last" was recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra as well as a version with vocals by John Payne and Pat Friday, but these recordings would remain unused and unissued. "At Last" can be heard in the movie in three scenes, however, in an orchestral performance by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra in the Lido Terrace night club after they perform "In the Mood", as part of the orchestral background score in a scene between John Payne and Lynn Bari, and in an orchestral version with vocalization but without lyrics a minute and twenty seconds in length during the closing skating sequence with Sonja Henie. "At Last" would also appear in the 1942 follow-up movie Orchestra Wives performed by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra with vocals by Ray Eberle and Pat Friday.
Glenn Miller vocalist Pat Friday provided the pre-recorded vocal tracks that Lynn Bari lip synced in the film.
Future Olympic gold medalist Gretchen Fraser was the skiing stand-in for Sonja Henie. Fraser was a member of the Olympic team in 1940 (cancelled) and 1948.Sonja Henie as Karen Benson
John Payne as Ted Scott
Glenn Miller as Phil Corey
Milton Berle as Jerome K. 'Nifty' Allen
Lynn Bari as Vivian Dawn (singing voice by Pat Friday)
Joan Davis as Miss Carstairs, Murray's secretary
William B. Davidson as Mr. Murray, Vivian's manager
Almira Sessions as Nurse hired for Karen
The Modernaires as Themselves
The Nicholas Brothers as Themselves
Dorothy Dandridge as a Specialty Act with the Nicolas Brothers
Glenn Miller Orchestra as the Phil Corey Orchestra / The Dartmouth Troubadours
Sun Valley Serenade was filmed in March 1941, by Darryl Zanuck, on spring snow in Sun Valley, Idaho. The film became a Hollywood hit and served as a recruiting effort for the elite ski corps of the 10th Mountain Division stationed at Camp Hale in Colorado. Sun Valley's ski school director, Otto Lang, of St. Anton, oversaw the skiing scenes. The musical numbers were recorded in multi-directional mono, placing microphones around different parts of the orchestra. Those were all mixed down to mono at the time the film was released. The parts of those recordings were found and mixed into true stereo. They have also been included in home video releases.
The film is shown 24 hours a day on a dedicated television channel available to all rooms at the Sun Valley Lodge and Inn.
The film was a favourite in Jewish Displaced Persons Camps in the aftermath of the Holocaust, with the film's light entertainment and quick adaptation of Sonja Henie's character to American life a potential model for Jewish Displaced Persons' futures.
Sun Valley Serenade was shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) for the first time on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2013 with an introduction by host Robert Osborne.
The film was released in the VHS format in 1991 by 20th Century Fox. In 2007 Sun Valley Serenade was released on DVD by 20th Century Fox for Region 2 format (Japan, Europe, South Africa and the Middle East). It remains unreleased on DVD for Region 1 (U.S., U.S. Territories, Canada and Bermuda). The Blu-ray version of Sun Valley Serenade has been Released in Spain under the title Tu Serás Mi Marido [literally You Will Be My Husband]. It is playable on Region A Blu-ray players in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Latin America.
Academy Awards:Nominated: Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Edward Cronjager (1942)
Nominated: Best Music, Original Song for "Chattanooga Choo Choo" Harry Warren (music), Mack Gordon (lyrics) (1942)
Nominated: Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, Emil Newman (1942)
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"Chattanooga Choo Choo" – Nominated
2006: AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated