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It's early in the Twentieth Century, and there's trouble, my friends, in
River City. Iowa, that is, in this delightful adaptation of Meredith
Wilson's long running Broadway musical, `The Music Man,' directed by Morton
DaCosta and starring Robert Preston as the fast-talking, fleet-footed
traveling salesman, Harold Hill. `Professor Harold Hill,' as he calls
himself this time around, is in the business of selling band instruments and
uniforms, all with the guarantee that he will teach the youngsters of the
parents who fork over the cash for his wares how to play. There's only one
problem, and it's the fact that -- as one of his fellow competitors puts
it-- `He don't know one note from another!' Alas, can it be the con is
When he jumps train in River City to escape the wrath of an angry gathering of his peers, whom he has `Given a black eye' to in the territory, thanks to his dubious business practices, he sets about plying his trade on the good folks of middle America. But right out of the chute, he runs into some problems: The Mayor of River City, George Shinn (Paul Ford) wants his credentials, the lovely young local piano teacher and librarian, Marion (Shirley Jones), has her doubts about him, and he lacks an `angle,' something to convince the local citizenry of the need for a `boys band' to get them out of the trouble they're in-- even if there isn't any until he `creates' it.
One of his problems is solved when he runs into Marcellus Washburn (Buddy Hackett), a former shill of his, who mentions the new billiard table that just arrived in town. And that's all the Professor needs; because now they've got trouble, `With a capital T' that rhymes with P' and that stands for Pool'!' With that, he's up and running and he's got everything timed, right down to the `Last wave of the conductor's hand on the last train out of town.' Yee-gods and great honk! River City, Iowa, is about to have their very own boy's band.
Robert Preston gives the most memorable performance of his career as Hill, the silver-tongued salesman who can palaver past postulated proffered predicaments quicker'n an eggheaded egret's emblematized egression. It's just a matter of charm, style and timing, and Preston imbues Hill with em all, and more. He brings a mesmerizing presence to the screen in this role that is absolutely perfect; Preston IS Harold Hill, and he makes him his own in such a way that it's impossible to visualize anyone else in the role. It certainly gave Preston a chance to demonstrate his amazing versatility, and he really made the most of it, carving out a niche for himself in cinematic history.
The beautiful and talented Shirley Jones is terrific, as well, as `Marion the Librarian,' the young woman with a heart of gold who becomes a formidable opponent for Hill as he tries to charm his way past her suspicions of him. Jones personifies everything that is pure, moral and good, without being prudish, and it makes Marion a truly endearing character. And, like Preston, her performance is so good it's impossible to picture anyone else in the part. She's simply magnificent.
The made-to-order supporting cast includes a very young Ron Howard, unforgettable as Winthrop Paroo, Marion's little brother, Hermione Gingold (Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn), Pert Kelton (Mrs. Paroo), Monique Vermont (Amaryllis), Susan Luckey (Zaneeta), Timmy Everett (Tommy Djilas), Harry Hickox (Charlie) and Mary Wickes (Mrs. Squires). Featuring a number of memorable songs, including `76 Trombones,' `Till There Was You,' `Gary, Indiana' and of course the catchy `Trouble In River City' number, `The Music Man' is an uplifting, totally transporting film that makes the world seem like a pretty good place after all. This is the `Good Old Days' the way we'd like to think they really were, and it's all courtesy of the magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.
I will go on record to say that THE MUSIC MAN is the BEST film adaptation of a Broadway musical. Unlike MY FAIR LADY (another fine acievement) which was translated almost verbatim from the stage libretto to film, THE MUSIC MAN is NOT that great a musical comedy on stage. In fact, it's pretty mediocre. Comparing the original stage libretto to what Marion Hargrove did with her incredible screenplay, one counts over forty additional scenes or pieces of dialogue that open out and/ or add character to the principals. Her screenplay is such a VAST improvement over the original it is truly what makes the film so special. A number of reviewers on this site loathe the film, but I imagine they would loathe any musical. This is top rate acting, singing, dancing, with fast paced direction and a constantly moving camera for the dance numbers - the absolute best mise en scene I've ever experienced in a filmed musical comedy. (Mind you, musical play adaptations are a different category - I'm talking musical comedies here). Get the letterboxed version if you can as this was beautifully composed for wide screen. I remember seeing it in the balmy summer days of one of our nation's last years of innocence. Everyone was seeing it, talking about it, theaters extending their runs for a number of months to early autumn. It brought together all the nostalgia of what we best remember of another golden era (just before WW I) when America was still basically an agrarian economy. A real gem, this one.
One of the greatest musicals ever put onto film is how I would describe "The
Music Man" with its show stopping numbers like "Ya Got Trouble Right Here in
River City", "The Sadder But Wiser Girl For Me", "Wells Fargo Wagon",
"Seventy Six Trombones" and many more.
Confidence trickster Harold Hill arrives in River City with the intention of setting up a boy's band and taking money for costumes and instruments but intends to leave town with the money before these arrive. Things don't exactly work out to plan when he finds himself falling for the town's librarian and he becomes involved with the lives of many of the River City citizens. Meanwhile, the mayor tries his best to have Hill run out of town but one by one the River City townspeople begin to realise that Hill has actually brought much happiness and contentment to several of them since his arrival. Marian the librarian gradually succumbs to Hill's charms and defends him against the wild accusations of the mayor.
A high class ensemble of players make this a captivating film - in addition to Robert Preston himself (absolutely brilliant as Professor Harold Hill) we have Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo (the librarian), Buddy Hackett as Hill's friend Marcellus Washburn, Harry Hickox as another salesman determined to expose Hill, Paul Ford as Mayor Shinn and Hermione Gingold as Mrs Eulalie Shinn. Paul Ford's excellent portrayal of Mayor Shinn was not that far removed from his role as Colonel Hall in the long running "Sergeant Bilko" TV series. (I half expected to see Phil Silvers turn up in River City with some new gambling scheme on his mind!). Also in the "Music Man" cast was a very young Ron Howard (aged only eight) as Winthrop Paroo who was outstanding in his featured number "Gary, Indiana" which he had to sing with a lisp!! (He is of course now well established as a competent film director). I was surprised to see the talented actor Max Showalter (also known as Casey Adams) only used in one scene at the opening of the film. An actor of his calibre should have had a much larger part I consider. I was delighted to see Percy Helton (albeit briefly), one of my favourite character actors, pop up as the train conductor at the beginning of the film. Percy Helton has appeared in hundreds of films and is instantly recognisable with his distinctive voice and chubby frame. A word of praise is due to "The Buffalo Bills" who provide many delightful musical interludes throughout the film. "The Music Man" was produced and directed by Morton da Costa and I loved his theatrical device when the screen went dark after some of the musical numbers - a fascinating innovation.
Some favourite lines from the film:-
Harry Hickox: "But he doesn't know the territory!".
Robert Preston: "Gentlemen, you intrigue me - I think I'll have to give Iowa a try!".
Paul Ford: "I said all along - get his credentials didn't I?".
Paul Ford: "Where's the band? Where's the band?".
Preston (to the boy's band): "Now think, men, think!".
In 1958 Robert Preston won the prestigious "Tony" Award as Best Actor in a musical (on Broadway) for "The Music Man" but was overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when it came to the "Oscars". Why Preston wasn't even nominated as "Best Actor" is a mystery to me as this was the perfect role for him having performed it so long on Broadway. He was ideally suited in the part of Harold Hill and played it to perfection. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards (including one for best picture but was beaten by "Lawrence of Arabia").
A fabulous musical with entertaining storyline, noteworthy acting talent, and impeccably photographed in ravishing colour. "The Music Man" is an exceptional musical which can be viewed again and again with increasing enjoyment. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
I first saw "The Music Man" on its first run in 1962. I just saw it again last night on cable. If anything, I enjoyed it more last night. I think that your belief in "fairy tales" such as this only grows with the passing of the years. Preston's performance is so near-perfect that the viewer starts to believe his line of corn-fed BS. The knowledge of what Ron Howard has become enhances the enjoyment of his fine work here. It's funny, magical and a musical treat to the ears!!
bright, fun, colorful, unforgettable songs, likeable characters, great choreography, true to the time period, and i'd like to see anyone try to find an actor blend so naturally into a character as robert preston.
The Music Man is a musical film that was done right and which, if
anything, improves on its well regarded source material. It ranks up
there with the all-time great musicals of Hollywood's golden age (and
such British marvels such as "Evergreen," which starred the
incomparable Jessie Matthews.
This movie has it all - wonderful music, a fine script, good production values and a top cast. What makes it really special is Robert Preston's tour-de-force performance. His performance is, quite simply, one of the most memorably great performances in the history of film.
It's one of those benchmark performances that must make any other actor who takes the role shake in their boots, for as long as the memory of Robert Preston as Prof. Hill exists all others will be compared against him and, likely, found lacking.
The rest of the cast is superior. I especially love Pert Kelton as Marian the Librarian's mother. Kelton was the original Alice on the classic "The Honeymooners" (she played Alice's mother later on in the series) and she had incredible comic timing. She reminds me of a combination of Ethel Merman, with her brassy voice and larger-than-life presence, and the comic genius of the great Patsy Kelly. It's a shame Kelton was not put to better use in the movies. She was a natural.
And then there is Shirley Jones. Lovely to look at and wonderful to hear and a good enough actor to keep up with Preston.
Buddy Hackett usually annoyed me but he's perfect as Prof. Hill's sidekick and his "Shafoofie" (sp?) number is a blast.
Funniest scene - Grecian Urns.
A splendid movie and one of the last great musicals. They truly don't make 'em like that anymore.
This wonderful production has to be watched on the big screen to be fully appreciated. It is,in my opinion, the best translation from Broadway musical theater material to the opening-up on the screen. The performance and general character portrayal of Robert Preston is irresistible and a joy to watch. As far as musicals are concerned, this is the one to take along to your desert island! Í always look forward to the next opportunity there is to show it on the screen of my cinema again. Sentimental, nostalgic, funny and romantic, this picture has it all. And that includes the wonderful melodic songs and the fantastic choreography. I'm running out of superlatives. It's my favorite musical.
This was a very difficult musical, I suspect, for Morton da Costa to
direct. To his great credit, it never looks to me like a stage musical;
taking his cue from a few famous examples of adaptations done on
non-musical films, he has used the entire River City, Iowa, USA town as
his stage, moving his mobile cameras wherever the action could best be
served. But I suggest "The Music Man" is most important not for its
entertainment qualities, which are considerable perhaps, but for its
importance as a fantasy-for-the-sake-of-an-idea plot. Without it, we
might never have had "Finian's Rainbow", "Chicago" or "City of Angels"
for instance. Hollywood's studio tsars, despite their surrealized
applying of pseudo-Christian endings to plots, were always very
cautious about introducing any "fantasy" element into a film. (Note the
lengthy apologia by David Selznick for "Portrait of Jenny", for
instance.) In this story, Meredith Wilson used his personal knowledge
of the people and ways-of-thinking of Iowa to ground a charming and
genial fantasy about music-course salesman Harold Hill firmly within
its milieu--one of a group of U.S minds in need of more imagination.
The town's kindly folk, in fact, are shown as barely tolerant toward
its librarian, who inherited the institution from its elderly compiler;
they are suspicious of how Marian Paroo acquired the stock, and
suspicious of her desire to teach their young minds to think for
themselves. Enter Professor Hill--to change the lives of the almost
charming but repressed early twentieth-century denizens forever. The
basic plot is very simple to state. Professor Hill comes to towns,
sells the town's citizens on the idea of starting a boy's band, and
then skips out before they can ever perform. Here, he is brought to the
point of leading his troops, trained by his "think system", in a
concert; and the townsfolk are enthralled by hearing their sons play.
This simple tale starred Robert Preston as the wily city-bred Hill,
Jones as the lovely but doubting 'Marian the Librarian', Pert Kelton as her mother, Buddy Hackett as his fine friend, Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold as the pretentious Mayor and his wife, plus many citizens of the town young and old, Harry Hickox as the envious rival who exposes Hill and the Buffalo Bills singing quartet. Well-known songs in this sprightly US romp include, "Till There Was You", "Somethin' Special", "Goodnight My Someone", "Marian the Librarian" and "Trouble", among others. In the film, the leads are award caliber, everyone else from Ronnie Howard to Susan Luckey to the quartet do very well. Marion Hargrove adapted Wilson's libretto and songs written by Wilson and Franklin Lacey. The cinematography by Robert Burks was vivid and stylishly old-fashioned. Paul Groesse did the art direction, with set decorations being supplied by George James Hopkins and his staff. The very elaborate costumes were the work of the brilliant designer Dorothy Jeakins. This is a sense of life film written by, about and for non-practicing Christians of the last century that was mounted somehow in 1962, as an homage to a simpler and more optimistic time. We can all be grateful it was; it is a great deal of fun and its ending is a happy part of the fantasy, which needs to be seen to be appreciated.
One of the best musicals ever made. So much of the movie is perfect:
music, most of the cast. One weak spot is Susan Luckey as
Zaneeta, though the part is not well written. Another is Monique Vermont
Amaryllis, worse than average for a child actor. But the 8-year-old Ronny
Howard as Winthrop is excellent. He shines at the end when Harold Hill
his foot caught in the door. Of course, Preston is perfect, as is Shirley
Jones, who never looked better. (Someone said Heaven is where all the men
are 33 and all the women are 30. Jones was in her late 20s.) Paul Ford,
Hermione Gingold (overdoing it once), and Pert Kelton are all
The director Morton DaCosta uses a gimmick here and in Auntie Mame that I don't care for. At the end of some scenes, all the lights go out except those on the principals. Sometimes that's more of a jolt than necessary, because we've gone from outdoors to inside the studio.
My favorite song is Sadder But Wiser Girl. The reference to Hester winning just one more A meant nothing until 11th grade when we read The Scarlet Letter. And after Preston sings that line, he looks guiltily over his shoulder at Amaryllis to see if she understands how naughty he's been.
My second favorite is Lida Rose/Will I Ever Tell You. Such a beautiful song. It pains me that the rocking chairs at either end of the screen are sometimes out of sync. It should have been done perfectly.
One brilliant touch concerns the Buffalo Bills. Early on, Mayor Shinn says "The members of the School Board will not present a patriotic tableau. Some disagreement about costumes, I suppose." At the time, the four are dressed quite differently. As their singing progresses, they start dressing more and more alike, until at the end they're dressed alike (I'm pretty sure).
Marion's epiphany during The Wells Fargo Wagon is quite sweet.
As is a lovely line from Goodnight, My Someone: But I must depend on a wish and a star/ As long as my heart doesn't know who you are. (Sigh.)
I remember almost being shocked hearing this film again in the '90s
after seeing it for over 30 years. Some of the music almost sounded
like today's - or the 1990s - rap music! It's kind of weird.
There are memorable songs in this musical, ones that became pretty darn famous, such as "76 Trombones" and "Trouble In River City." Most of the songs, in fact, on this soundtrack, are pretty lively and interesting.
I enjoyed seeing the Midwest scenery. Having gone to college in Iowa, I've always been a pit partial to that state, and the wonderful small towns there. I am also partial to corny (speaking of Iowa) and sentimental stories to this film gets "props" for providing plenty of that. An extra point goes for the name of the barbershop quartet in this story: "The Buffalo Bills."
Robert Preston, as "Professor Henry Hill," gets center stage, here, and - warning - he can wear you out. Most people love him in this role but, for others, he can be grating....and I understand that, too. Preston's fast-talking can you give a headache, if you aren't ready for it. However, the man is so convincing in this role, he seems born to play it.
There are so many songs in this movie that the story is almost secondary. It's really a stage show, so don't expect some super story. Frankly, I liked that fact is mainly music. I've read where the new special-edition DVD really brings out the colors in this movie, so I'm anxious to check it out. I haven't seen the film since that VHS viewing a decade ago.
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