The Music Man is one of the great musicals of the stage and screen, and it happens to be one of my dad’s favorite movies. Seriously, he gets oddly gleeful at random little details, such as the smitten sighs of Marion and her mother. While that’s a little overboard, The Music Man is indeed a fine example of a faithful musical film adaptation.
Very few actors completely own their roles (Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Yul Brynner in The King and I), but Robert Preston originated the role of Professor Harold Hill and brings such incomparable charisma that no one can touch him. (Sorry, Matthew Broderick, your remake just can’t compare.) Likewise, Shirley Jones is impeccable as the gradually converted Marian the librarian, as are all the actors, including Paul Ford as the tongue-tied Mayor Shinn, Hermione Gingold as his priggish wife, Buddy Hackett as Hill’s accomplice Marcellus, Pert Kelton as Marion’s extremely Irish mother, the play’s Buffalo Bills as a barbershop quartet Hill forms, and little Andy–Griffith-aged Ronny Howard as Marion’s young lisping brother. Many characters possess a distinct song or background theme that punctuates their scenes; no wonder the film won the Oscar for best adapted score. (Side note: Shirley Jones was pregnant for much of the film shoot, which is skillfully hidden throughout the film. When she and Preston shared their kiss at the foot bridge, he actually felt the unborn Patrick Cassidy kick. Ironically, that same Patrick Cassidy will soon play Professor Harold Hill in a seven-state tour alongside his mother, now playing Marion’s mother.)
A few songs are less-than-memorable, such as “The Sadder but Wiser Girl” and “Being in Love,” but for the most part the film is practically one inspired hit after another. The songs by former John Philip Sousa bandmember Meredith Willson rely less on rhyme and more on rhythm, best demonstrated in the opening salesman song “Rock Island,” which perfectly matches the cadence of a locomotive. The soundtrack is replete with subsequent classics, from “Iowa Stubborn” to “Gary, Indiana” to “The Wells Fargo Wagon” to Buddy Hackett’s nonsensically titled showstopper “Shipoopi.” The best have got to be Preston’s slickly articulate “Ya Got Trouble,” his captivating dance number “Marian the Librarian,” and of course the Sousa-esque “Seventy-six Trombones.” The astounding, Tony-winning choreography by Onna White (Oliver!, Mame, 1776) is matched by some dynamic camerawork that follows the dancers in wide circles (along with some novel overhead shots) and captures the extended cavorting that must have taken much work to accomplish so seamlessly.
While slow in a few parts, The Music Man is a joy to watch, a testament to how mesmerizing swindlers can be and how satisfying it is when someone places enough belief and love in them to make them want to mend their ways. It may not be as high on my list as my dad would like, but I certainly see why it makes him so giddy—for the most part.
Best line: (Harold Hill, after Marion tries putting off his advances) “Oh, my dear little librarian, you pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.”Artistry: 9 Characters/Actors: 9 Entertainment: 9 Visual Effects: 6 Originality: 8 Watchability: 9 TOTAL: 50 out of 60
Next: #125 – Men in Black trilogy
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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