Movie Critique - The Music Man

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: To simply put, this is how musicals should be. It's a lively film with spirit, fun, romance, touches your heart, and at the same time teaches some lessons too. A must watch, if you haven't watched it yet. 

The Music Man is a 1962 American musical comedy film directed and produced by Morton DaCosta; and released by Warner Bros. Pictures. It stars Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Hermione Gingold, Paul Ford, Pert Kelton, and the barbershop quartet The Buffalo Bills among others.

Traveling salesman "Professor" Harold Hill (portrayed by Robert Preston) is famous for duping unsuspecting citizens; and a regular con man. He arrives in River City, Iowa with a new plan to con the citizens of the town who are known for their stubbornness. Masquerading as a band instructor, he starts to implement his plan, with his trusted aide Marcellus Washburn (portrayed by Buddy Hackett). Instead the local librarian, Marian Paroo (portrayed by Shirley Jones) falls in love with him. And now Professor has a moral dilemma tied to his heart.

The film was based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name by Meredith Wilson which was also directed by DaCosta. The story of the play was written by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey for which Marion Hargrove gave the screenplay. The film is set in 1912.

I watched the musical in the off-off-off Broadway show a couple years ago and was thoroughly impressed by it. And when Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel was airing this as part of their program The Essentials, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch it. And I enjoyed the movie also equally well.

Robert Preston reprised his role as Harold Hill from the musical in the film. He plays a conman who crazily stirs up a simple, sedate and quiet town. He essentially opens up everyone's mind and heart to possibilities; gets them out of their silos; and traverses them on adventures they never had before; all the while looking to fill his pockets along the way.

Shirley Jones was pregnant during the filming of the musical and costume designers had to adjust her costumes to hide the pregnancy. It is amazing that we cant see that at all in any of the outfits she wore.

Ron Howard portrays the role of Winthrop Paroo. But I remember him from the reruns that I have been watching of 1960s American situation comedy television series The Andy Griffith Show, where he played the role of Opie Taylor, son of Andy Taylor (portrayed by Andy Griffith).

Several cast members appeared from the original Broadway play in the film -  Pert Kelton (playing Mrs. Paroo), The Buffalo Bills (playing The School Board), Peggy Mondo (playing Ethel Toffelmier), and Adina Rice (playing Alma Hix). Pert and Buffalo Bills (Al Shea, Vern Reed, Wayne Ward, and Bill Spangenberg) reprised their roles from the play but the remaining were cast in different roles. 

Warner Bros. released the movie's soundtrack album after the release of the film. Except for three, all songs shown in the film were the same as in the play. But the language was changed to attract a broader audience and not just mid-westerners. 

Studio head Jack L. Warner used the marching band of University of South Carolina, The Sprit of Troy, in the final marching scene. Majority of the actual band took part in the scene, along with clothes and instruments made specially by Olds Instrument Company in Fullerton, CA.

The opening credits are formed by miniaturized stop-motion animated marching band, who then rearrange themselves into various musical instruments while the rest of the credits roll by. The Warner Bros. Pictures Logo is carried by these animated band members. They then place themselves in the alphabet characters of the film title; the producer-director and writer's name.

The closing credits appear in the style of a Broadway show's curtain call. First the minor characters are shown with the performers' names. The credits then progress through the cast ending with the lead.

The film won an Academy Award from Best Musical Score (Adaptation or Treatment) to Ray Heindorf. It went on to become the 3rd highest grossing movie for the year 1962. The film premiered in Mason City, Iowa, the home town of the writer Meredith Wilson. 

The way the entire town follows Harold Hill in the movie reminded me of the German folk lore, Pied Piper of Hamelin, in which a rat-catcher lures the children of the town instead when the town folks deny his payment. 

To simply put, this is how musicals should be. Also it attracted me because of the colorful outfits and musicality that one can hear all through the film, just like a Bollywood movie has songs and dances along with the drama. It's a lively film with spirit, fun, romance, touches your heart, and at the same time teaches some lessons too. A must watch, if you haven't watched it yet. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. In 2003, an American made to television movie was released with the same name based on this film.

b. Meredith Wilson did another smash hit musical, the 1964 American Metrocolor musical film The Unsinkable Molly Brown with Debbie Reynolds in the titular role, with the play in Broadway in 1960.

c. Shirley Jones and Ron Howard were together in the 1963 American romantic comedy film The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Shirley Jones portrayed the role of Elizabeth Marten, divorced next-door neighbor to the Corbetts - Tom Corbett (portrayed by Glenn Ford), recently widowed and his son Eddie Corbett (portrayed by Ron Howard). 

d. In the opening scene, there are several salesmen's sample cases on the overhead rack. Four of them are for real products - Worcester's Dictionaries; Wister's Balsam and Wild Cherry; Fowle's Humor Cure; and Tri-City Apothecary Co.

e. Checkout Mary Wickes, a constant from the 30s, 40s and 50s, as Mrs. Squires in this film. I remember her from the Season 1 Episode 4 Suitable For Framing in the TV series Columbo, for her role as the Landlady.

f. This is the final film of Jack Perrin who portrayed the role of a townsman.

g. Shirley Jones and Robert Preston dance to the tunes of the song Shipoopi which is Castle Walk, created by Vernon Castle & Irene Castle.

h. Ron Howard's father Rance Howard makes a brief appearance as Oscar Jackson (the man on this side of the car).

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When the train stops in River City, the train conductor tells one of the salesman, Carlie Cowell, that cigarettes are illegal in this state. But the first store that Professor Harold Hill passes in the town is a smoke shop.

b. Harold promises that the proposed uniform will have a "stripe". But when they arrive, the uniforms don’t have a stripe. And towards the end the uniforms have a stripe, miraculously.

c. Winthrop tells his mother and sister that Harold had taught him a song with hardly any S sounds in it. But the song he sings, "Gary, Indiana", has S sound in almost every line.

d. You can see power-towers and electrical wires in the backlot of Warne Bros. where the film's set was created, when the scenes are shown in long-range. 


default userpic

Your reply will be screened

Your IP address will be recorded 

When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.