The Music Man-1962
Starring-Robert Preston, Shirley Jones
Scott’s Review #929
Reviewed August 9, 2019
The big screen offering of The Music Man (1962) is based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, written by Meredith Wilson, and one of the most upbeat and jovial of all the Hollywood renditions of stage productions. Featuring talented stars like Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, the former appearing in the stage version, the film was one of the biggest hits of the year and can be watched and re-watched whenever the mood strikes for sing-along tunes and a cheery story told from a purely Americana viewpoint.
In the summer of 1912, deceitful traveling salesman Harold Hill (Preston) arrives in River City, Iowa, intent on swindling the town folks of their money. Masquerading as a traveling music instructor, he plans to bamboozle parents into enrolling their kids into a marching band and selling them instruments. He uses scare tactics to incorporate fear into the gullible parents and romantically sets his sights on the local librarian, Marian (Jones). Marian, who is distrustful of men, slowly falls in love with Harold, as his plotting eventually is discovered resulting in a witch hunt.
Of the plethora of musical releases bombarding Hollywood throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, The Music Man arguably possesses the catchiest tunes and the most jovial spirit. Impossible not to hum along with or tap one’s foot to, the songs stick in the viewer’s heads for days after watching the addictive production. My favorites are “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Gary, Indiana”, and “Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little” as each has distinctive melodies, rhymes and rapid-fire dialogue. The musical soundtrack always provides pleasure on the gloomiest of days which speaks volumes of the legs the musical contains.
Besides the tunes, the best aspect of The Music Man is the romantic story-line at its core. The chemistry exists in full form between Preston and Jones and each is perfectly cast. Due to the studio wanting “a big name” Preston nearly didn’t make the cut, which would have been a shame. As he infuses life and humor into a character who could be perceived as dastardly, he tips the likability scale firmly his way, making the character the hero of the film.
Jones, a treasured singer, is just as good as Preston, playing the mousy and serious Marian in a believable way. Her “slice of the mid-west” innocence and blonde hair portrays her as corn-bred, but the actress makes the character work for her and combined, the duo is sensational. The best sequence the pair appear in is the wonderful “Marian the Librarian”, a sneaky and naughty number the most adult of all the renditions. Their mutual attraction becoming evident, this is the moment when the film brings the audience to its knees.
The musical is purely a slice of Americana, which may limit its popularity across oceans, but for Americans it really works and feels authentic. This is no surprise given that composer Willson hailed from the mid-west. With an uplifting message, a nostalgic ode to a country once filled with promise and innocence, the film is arguably even more important in today’s divisive environment. The piece wisely does not celebrate small-town cliches but instead offers a wholesomeness. The townsfolk sing and dance together and celebrate life as a neighborly bunch and this nuance is refreshing to see.
The supporting cast adds flavor and comedy to the production. A very young child actor, soon to be famous director, Ron Howard, offers a heartfelt performance of “Gary, Indiana”. Character actors Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold offer delightful hysterics as Mayor Shinn and wife Eulalie.
Thematically like Oklahoma (1955) and Picnic (1955), at least from geographical and time-period perspectives, but distant relatives as far as mood and drama, all three could be watched in one marathon weekend. The Music Man (1962) provides the most warmth and will fill the most stone-faced of individuals with beaming smiles at its conclusion. The film version is a perfect example of a stage musical successfully brought to the silver screen with energy, bombast and gorgeous singing and dancing.