#101) The Music Man (1962)
OR “The Grift of Song”
Directed by Morton DaCosta
Written by Marion Hargrove. Based on the stage musical by Meredith Willson, in collaboration with Franklin Lacey.
Gold Medal, Class of aught-five
The Plot: Con artist “Harold Hill” (Robert Preston) arrives in 1912 River City, Iowa with a plan to trick its citizens into financing a boys’ marching band. Aided by his old friend Marcellus (Buddy Hackett), all goes smoothly until Harold starts to fall for Marian the town librarian (Shirley Jones). And this causes Trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, which stands for…Perfectly Enjoyable.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “Americana at its finest” and wonders how Robert Preston didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his performance. We’ll talk about that later, NFR.
But Does It Really?: If you aren’t tapping your toes and singing along by the end of this movie, you have a problem. It’s not as bold as “West Side Story” or as epic as “The Sound of Music”, but “The Music Man” is just as entertaining as many of the other great Broadway musicals-turned-films of the era. Though I can’t help but wonder if this spot on the Registry could have gone to Warner Brothers’ other Broadway musical adaptation with a non-singing lead; 1964’s “My Fair Lady”. Regardless, “The Music Man” is a feel-good film that represents the end of the movie musical’s reign in Hollywood.
Everybody Gets One: Director of both stage and film version Morton DaCosta, original cast member Pert Kelton, choreographer Onna White, and of course Leonard Hacker, aka Buddy Hackett.
Wow, That’s Dated: This has got to be one of the last movies where Technicolor gets a big mention in the opening credits. Also the idea of a big budget movie musical that isn’t, ya know, awful.
Seriously, Oscars?: A commercial and critical success in the summer of 1962, “The Music Man” was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It lost in most of its categories to “Lawrence of Arabia”, but did win the Oscar for Adapted Score. And yes, Robert Preston (along with the rest of the cast) went unnominated. But when Best Actor has the likes of Peter O’Toole, Jack Lemmon, and Gregory Peck (in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, no less), what chance do you really have?
- Can “Babes in Toyland” sue these guys for the stop-motion wooden soldiers opening credits?
- All copies of this film should come with a 1910s Phraseology Reference Guide. Mainly just because I want to incorporate more of it into my own vocabulary.
- “Iowa Stubborn” goes a long way for that “American Gothic” joke. Too bad the painting won’t be a thing for another 18 years.
- Robert Preston is just so damn charismatic in this film. I’d buy what he’s selling too. As for Shirley Jones, it’s unfair to compare her to the late great Barbara Cook, but she more than holds her own against Preston, who had been playing the role for five years at this point.
- Everyone in this movie is lip-synching for their life. But the important distinction is that, to the best of my knowledge, all of the principals did their own (pre-recorded) singing. No need for Marni Nixon here.
- There’s a 20 year age gap between Shirley Jones and her on-screen brother Ronny Howard. Did Mrs. Paroo have another dozen kids we never see?
- I always forget about the scene where Eulailie and the other ladies dress in Indian regalia. Yeesh.
- What’s with the blackouts that have a single spotlight on the principals? A little too theatrical if you ask me.
- Surprise cameo by the banjo kid from “Deliverance”.
- Yes movie, we get it, a bunch of women together is like a brood of hens. Very insightful. Move on.
- You want to talk about not getting an Oscar nomination, how about Hermione Gingold’s delivery of “Balzac”?
- Should they be singing “Sadder But Wiser Girl” in front of Amaryllis?
- As I did during my first viewing of this film, I burst into applause at the end of “Marian the Librarian”. Easily one of the most underrated dance scenes in a film.
- This film is the best commercial Wells Fargo ever got.
- There are two things musically that I am a sucker for: barbershop quartets and good counterpoint. So naturally “Lida Rose” is my favorite song in this score, hands down.
- Speaking of “Lida Rose”, what’s with the camera set-up? Am I supposed to be watching through a knotted fence?
- Just a reminder that Winthrop is directing the new Han Solo movie. Keep this in mind as you watch him lisp his way through this film.
- The finale gives me chills every time.
- The stage version of “The Music Man” has come back to Broadway a few times, and was remade for television in 2003 with Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth. It’s the film that made us notice that Matthew Broderick was really starting to phone it in as an actor.
- Conan O’Brien loves “The Music Man” and has referenced it throughout his career, most memorably in his “Simpsons” episode “Marge vs. the Monorail”. He also did his own rendition of “Trouble” at the 2006 Emmys.
- Seth MacFarlane also cites “The Music Man” as a favorite. Watch him croon a classic, and then turn another song into a “Family Guy” gag.
- The Beatles covered “Till There Was You” on their second album, and is the reason Meredith Willson’s estate never has to worry about running out of money.
- The “con artist starts a con and then has a change of heart” trope has been used again and again, perhaps no more entertainingly than here and “School of Rock”.
Listen to This: You want your Sousa, I got your Sousa.