Meredith Wilson’s 1957 Broadway smash The Music Man was a big, brass-band valentine to small-town America at the turn of the 20th century. And the film, which followed five years later, is among the most exuberant, old-fashioned delights from the waning days of the Hollywood musical’s golden age. Robert Preston conducts himself splendidly as Prof. Harold Hill, a traveling salesman with a scheme to form a boys' marching band and sell River City yokels the uniforms and gear. Alas, the town’s lovely librarian, Marian (Shirley Jones), smells a rat; and Hill’s efforts to charm her by drawing her awkward little brother (Ron Howard) out of his shell lead to the ersatz professor’s unlikely delivery from the dark side. The film’s impeccable cast includes Paul Ford as River City's confounded mayor, Hermione Gingold as his "Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little" biddy of a wife, and Buddy Hackett as Hill's former partner in crime. "76 Trombones" leads the big parade of showstoppers, including "Till There Was You," "Marian the Librarian," “Gary, Indiana," and "Trouble." Speaking of trouble right here in River City, the revealing making-of documentary included on the Special Edition DVD notes that Jones was pregnant during most of the production, necessitating various shoot-arounds. Another fun fact from the 30-minute documentary: The studio wanted Frank Sinatra for the title role, but the musical's composer, Meredith Wilson, insisted that without Preston, who made the role his own on Broadway, there would be no movie. Like the wish-fulfilling contents of "The Wells Fargo Wagon," The Music Man remains something very, very special.
The Music Man is among the best movie musicals, transforming Meredith Willson's Broadway hit into an energetic slice of Americana. Robert Preston's virtuoso portrayal of con man Harold Hill transfers from the stage (despite the studios' nervousness about casting no-name Preston), and the result is one of the most explosively vital performances in any movie musical. Until the very end, Preston never sugar-coats or softens Hill's rapacious self-seeking, nor does Shirley Jones downplay the stubborn snobbishness of his love interest, Marian Paroo. The portrayal of the River City townfolk is memorably caustic: "You can have your fill of the all the food you bring yourself!" runs only one of the snide remarks in their introductory song, which offers, "Glad to have you with us -- even though we may not ever mention it again." The film's embrace of small-town American life is not confined to its sentimental, sickly-sweet aspects (the movie's hero, after all, is a con man, whom Preston's vigorously charming performance dares us to like), and this dimensionality makes the movie as distinctive dramatically as it is musically. Preston carries the movie, but he receives memorable support from Jones, Ron Howard as her brother Winthrop, Buddy Hackett as his sidekick, and such stalwarts as Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, and Pert Kelton among the River City townspeople. The underrated score includes "Till There Was You," later covered by The Beatles and often mistaken for one of their songs. Made at the acme (yet last gasp) of the blockbuster movie musical in the first half of the 1960s, The Music Man can hold its own among such better-known contemporaries as West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), and The Sound of Music (1965).
|Source:||Warner Home Video|
|Sound:||[Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround]|