The Music Man (1962)
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That helps to explain what I had seen before as a too sudden shift in Marian's attitude toward Robert Preston's character. She went from distrust and disdain to kindness and an almost syrupy liking for the man. But as the movie progressed, I could see what she was seeing – the change in the people. They had gone from quarrelsome, argumentative, sassy, abrupt, disdainful and downright nasty characters to a bunch of happy critters for the most part. Now, admittedly, Paul Ford as Mayor Shinn had to remain a sour puss almost to the end. That's who and what Paul Ford is in movies (and he was so kind and pleasant in real life).
That all gives a nice moral undertone to the film. I suspect Meredith Wilson intended it all along. That is, that it's not a big thing to be taken by a con artist for a few hundred bucks if the con man otherwise brings some joy and happiness into one's life. So, the music man was really a purveyor of good feelings about oneself and one's neighbor, and a morale booster for the community.
And, with that I've come to appreciate and admire Robert Preston that much more for his performance. Preston had never made a musical before, and I don't know how he got the lead for the part in the stage play. But thankfully, he got the lead for the film as well. And, he was 44 years old when Warner Brothers made this film. Yet, look at the energy he brings to the role. He could easily have been a fast-talking, back-patting character to play the role. He was somewhat that, but also a perky person with a smile and positive take on everything. Finally, he was most convincing just by the bounce and life he put in his steps and walk. Each time he had to go someplace, he took a couple of quick steps – much like many young people do when excited about going some place or doing something. It's like a short race to a door or porch, etc.
So that's what Shirley Jones saw as Marian. And I'm convinced that Preston's role and performance truly carried this film to its success – and maybe the stage show as well. All of the performers did well, but for a major Broadway musical that made it to film, "The Music Man" didn't have any top tunes or many memorable songs. "Seventy-Six Trombones" is the only number that most people would know from this show. "Lida Rose" became popular over the years, especially with barbershop quartets.
Meredith Wilson wrote the play and the music and lyrics for the whole show. He wrote some 40 songs in all, but only 18 were used in this film. The story is based on his hometown and the period in which he grew up in Mason City, Iowa. The time in the film is 1912, and that's the year that Mason City high school's band started. Wilson played piccolo in that band.
Most people should enjoy this film. It's a look at small town America shortly after the turn of the 20th century.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the film. For more samples of funny and witty dialog, see the Quotes section under the IMDb Web page of the movie.
Harold Hill, "Could you kindly direct me? Which way is the center of town?" A man working in garden nods his head to the right and says, "Runs right down the middle of the street."
Harold Hill, "You must realize that only one out of every 78 adults has a ganglion that reaches the ligature clear down to the apex. This automatically turns your entire face into an amazing embouchure." Mrs. Paroo, "Well, I never had a sick day in my life, Doctor."
Harold Hill, "All of the really great cornet players were Irish – O'Clark, O'Mendez, O'Klein." Mrs. Paroo, "But professor, we are Irish." Harold Hill, "No? No, really? Well, that cinches it. Sign here, madam. Your boy was born to play the cornet That'll be $7 earnest money."
Marian Paroo, "The one thing one must remember, no matter who one is or what one is working for, one can do anything if one puts one's mind to it." Harold Hill, "Miss Marian, if one could only tell you how much you've done for one."
Mayor George Shinn, "Not one poop out of you, madam." Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn turns to Zaneeta and says, "I think he means 'peep.'"
Mayor George Shinn, "I settle your hash as soon as I get these premises off my oldest girl." (sic)
Marian Paroo, "I've never met a man who sells anvils before." Anvil salesman, "Takes a real salesman, I can tell you that. Anvils have a limited appeal, you know."
Harold Hill, "Oh, my dear little librarian. You pile up enough tomorrows and you'll find you've collected nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays."
Impossible not to admire the dexterity of Robert Preston's dynamic transference of his stage role to the screen. Highly theatrical, but wholly cinematic. Great cast, all the way. I agree with the reviewer who interpreted the story as an account of the way America buys into the conman's spiel, and finds happiness in being played for a sucker. Forget the US holocaust, ethnic cleansing of the natives, slavery, the fake revolution, the civil war. This is how the West was won, and the way Iowa once was. Makes you think !
The soundtrack features such memorable standards as: "Goodnight, My Someone" and "Gary, Indiana", the rousing "Shipoopi" plus the creatively intertwined numbers: "Ya Got Trouble/76 Trombones" and "Pick a Little, Talk a Little/Goodnight, Ladies".
In case you are somehow unfamiliar with the story, Hill is a confidence man, who along with his cohort Marcellus Washburn (Hackett), happens upon River City, a small town replete with naïve parents – including the Mayor (Ford) and his wife (Gingold) – that fall for his shtick. They come to believe that Hill can transform their little minions into a full-fledged patriotic marching band – all they have to do is buy brand new uniforms and instruments from him! The better (read and) informed Marian is the only one that's skeptical, even though (especially because?) little Winthrop is Hill's biggest fan. So Hill has to win over or at least distract Miss Marian long enough for Washburn to collect the town's money, then they can get out of town before the townfolk realize that Hill's a fraud. Of course, wooing the comely librarian is fraught with its own dangers as the Professor soon discovers and risks being entrapped by his own lovemaking.
Of course, the music can be credited with a large part of its appeal. It is by turns, rousing, witty, sweet, and moving. The lyrics are inventive, amusing with the spoken songs; clever, with enough satire to send up the provincialism of small towns; polished, as a reflection of Mr. Hill's technique; simple and direct, when expressing deep-felt aspirations and emotions. The production numbers are all wonderful, the choreography of the the dancers, chorus, cameras, and editing smooth and energetic. And the performances are all great, with just that much larger-than-life necessary to make for a good show.
But other movies have that, and wouldn't keep me watching them time after time. It must be The Music Man deals with something more essential. There is a surprising amount of cynicism and worldliness in the story, not just by Harold Hill. The town folk are all ready to expect the worst of human nature. Not the usual picture of rural America, or the innocent rubes taken advantage of by the scheming con man. They are taken advantage of, but it's by Hill's manipulation of their weaknesses, fears, and proclivities, not their innocence. Paradoxically, the fakery Hill needs to practice brings about the good in the movie. To deflect investigation of his credentials, he turns the feuding school board into an inseparable quartet. Looking for a natural leader to coalesce the band around, he pulls the young Tommy out of a life of hooliganism, giving him responsibility. Conning Winthrop Paroo, he breaks the child out of his lonely and unhappy isolation. And for Marion Paroo, he brings birds, bells, and love.
I have an informal list in my head of my favorite musicals. They include movies like 42nd Street, the Rogers/Astaire musicals, Funny Face, and others. The Music Man, however, doesn't automatically come to mind. I'll have to work to change my thinking.
This movie gets points for having Opie Taylor (Ron Howard), even if it had nothing else going for it. But it actually has some pretty good songs. Most are not well known, but some are (like "76 Trombones") and some should be ("Marian the Librarian").
This may not be my favorite musical (I am not sure what would be), but it is quite a bit better than a lot of them out there, and seems to be generally not as well known. Probably because of the lack of big stars. And that is a shame, because this is really quite the story.
Robert Preston was terrific. I love musicals and big films like this are a rarity, but the musical hasn't died -- it moved into the world of animation and to children's films... it resurfaces once in a while, with the spectacular
All the performers were delightful, though some overdrawn but Shirley Jones did a fine job as Marian...the credit goes to the screenwriter who apparently overhauled the Broadway play. I noticed that Ronnie Howard was listed in the movie...what a talented man he turned out to be.
It always amazes me when someone hits a home run out of the ball park during his first time up at bat. That's what Willson has done with The Music Man. This is one of the cleverest musicals I've ever seen, both music and lyrics alike, and all from the ingenious mind of the same brilliant man!
It's wonderful that so many of the leading cast from the Broadway show were involved in the movie, including Director Morton Da Costa and, of course, Robert Preston, among others. It's filmed in much the same way as the stage production. Oona White's choreography is energetic, infectious and as terrific as anything from Jerome Robbins.
But back to Willson. He skilfully weaves his best songs in with each other ('Good Night, My Someone'/'76 Trombones', 'Pick-a-little,Talk-a-little/Good Night, Ladies' and 'Lida Rose', the duet between Shirley Jones (Marion the Librarian) and The Buffalo Bills, to name but a few. The movie was made almost 55 years ago, but because it's set in the '20's, it nonetheless holds up. It was dated back then, and it's dated now, which is why it still works. And a song like 'The Sadder But Wiser Girl for Me' must have been risqué back in the day, but the lyrics are clever, funny, and quite probably ahead of their time, for a family-oriented musical! Watching this movie is like a masterclass in stagecraft.
The production values are top-notch, with plenty of bright colours, handsome sets and some of the cleverest cinematography of any film musical, adding so much colour and verve to every song. The score is energetic and lush and the songs are marvellous and don't make the mistakes of bogging the film down by being too lengthy or pointless. Even the admittedly silly Shipoopi, thankfully not in a cringe-worthy annoying way. Favourites being the heartfelt Till There Was You and the show-stopper that is 76 Trombones, you also have to love how virtuosic Ya Gotta Trouble is. The choreography is just electric and some of the most fun-filled and dynamic of any film musical(along with the likes of West Side Story), particularly in 76 Trombones. Morton Da Costa, who also directed the musical on Broadway, re-creates it on screen with all the expertise and energy he brought to his Broadway directing, without it being too overly-literal.
Love the script too, which is snappy and smart and in a way that's warm-hearted and good-natured. A few of my favourite lines come from Hermione Gingold the lines "Well, I'd certainly know if I gave you a son!" and ""It's a smutty book" and her delivery of them are just hilarious and her chemistry and interplay with Paul Ford(also very funny) is scene-stealing. One may worry that the story plays second fiddle to the songs and choreography, and it didn't feel that way really to me. Maybe not as strong, but the energy and charm it has is non-stop as well as the warmth and heart(those things and how they're executed more than make up for that), if a film cheers you up when it's needed it does its job well, The Music Man is one such film. It is a long film at nearly 2 and a half hours, but personally it sure didn't feel it. The characters are also very engaging, as well as wonderfully performed.
Robert Preston's performance(a possible career-best, it's certainly the role I remember him most for) is one for the ages and one of my favourite lead performance from any film musical. Shirley Jones is as lovely as she was in Oklahoma! and Carousel and sings just as beautifully with a slightly more mature quality than before. Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold are terrific fun and steal each scene they're in. Buddy Hackett and Ronny Howard's singing are not brilliant exactly(I don't class either of them as singers really), but the performances from both are still great, particularly from Howard who plays the younger brother with sweetness and pathos. Hackett is very amusing too. Buffalo Bills also make appearances and quite special ones too.
Overall, an invigorating experience and a wonderful film in general, one of the best film musicals ever made. 10/10 Bethany Cox
Robert Preston is great as the scheming con man without making him a completely unredeemable character. Of course, that allows him to be redeemed. His rendition of 'Ya Got Trouble' is perfect along with so many great performances. It's terrific that the role didn't get recast to a movie star. Shirley Jones is lovely and Buddy Hackett is fun. Also a young Ron Howard has a nice important role.
During his stay in River City, Hill becomes enamored of the town librarian, Marian (played by Shirley Jones). She has a young brother named Winthrop (Ron Howard) who, due to a lisp, is socially awkward. As Hill's plans take form, he eventually has second thoughts about conning Marian. Will he make the evening train with the town's cash in his pocket? Or will his feelings for Marian trip him up?
Other reviewers have lavished praise upon this musical and its star, Robert Preston. The kudos are warranted. The film does a good job of recreating an ideal small American town and the music is very entertaining. Preston surely captures the sing-song shill of the shyster and he is as slippery as fish oil. The wonderful voice of Shirley Jones elevates the production, while other roles are delightfully cast with Buddy Hackett, Hermione Gingold, Paul Ford and others.
One aspect of this musical sets it apart from most others. You will note that most musicals--from "Oklahoma!" to "Carousel" include a darker element--a character who adds danger or ill intent--or a theme that is not cheerful, e.g. racism in "South Pacific" or Nazism in "The Sound of Music". The closest thing "The Music Man" has to this is the shady character of Harold Hill, but the story deflects any darkness with its cheerful tunes and comic diversions. As a result, the film remains upbeat throughout.
Preston's performance of "Ya Got Trouble" is iconic and one of the best numbers in musical history.
What's not to like? Preston is brilliant. Jones is the perfect example of how the perfection of human beauty is enhanced with a beautiful voice. It's romantic and nostalgic and wonderful.
But what makes Music Man so special is that it is based on a cultural reality. Iowa (like the rest of the Big Ten turf) is awash in an incredible band music tradition. Those amazing bands that play halftime music at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State don't fall out of thin air—they are supported by a feeder system. Music Man was supposedly about Mason City and I would be shocked if they don't have a first-rate high school band to this day.
But all these bands had to start somewhere. Someone had to convince folks that they should spend money to teach their children to make music. Now it is unlikely that someone as smooth-talking as Hill ever existed, but someone had to perform the job he did. And anyone who was promoting a band was very likely to be something of a showman—it comes with the territory. So while Hill was an exaggeration, real Hills existed.
Note here, this isn't a story of a con-man who got away with one. Because it doesn't matter if Hill knew a note of music. If this had really happened, there would be no downside. Suddenly, the town would have a bunch of new instruments and in love with the idea their town could make it's own music. The town probably had enough Marions so they could get basic instruction started. Besides, it would take at least five years before the town band could make music anyway, so no one could have expected Hill to actually form a boy's band during the summer. Guys like Hill were important but hardly sufficient. The great youth bands in Iowa would wait until her universities started cranking out qualified music teachers.
The idea that Iowa could have developed from virgin grassland to a society with roads, schools, and a successful export economy in only 60 years (1850 to 1910 when this musical was supposedly set) implies a LOT of plain hard work. It is also implies promoters. And the guys who brought music to the Midwest were the sort of people who didn't wait for permission to get something started. It's why the sensible librarian / piano teacher Marion recognized the promoter's value to the community.
There's a lot of truth in this wonderful, silly, beautiful movie.
It has a collection of fine performances, and one - Robert Preston's incarnation of Howard Hill - that is simply off the charts, it's so good.
It has some very impressive dance numbers.
The costumes and sets are Technicolor fun.
But this is a musical, and the music, with the exception of two outstanding numbers - Seventy-Six Trombones, Till There Was You - is completely and immediately forgettable.
The Marian the Librarian number is a good example of the problems this causes. It's wonderfully choreographed, but despite all that great dancing and energy, it never really takes off, because the music is so uninteresting.
It's a shame, really, as there is so much talent in this movie.
If you're lucky, the energy and talent will make you forget that there's no substance to the numbers. And the two good numbers are, indeed, wonderfully done. Shirley Jones does full honors to Till There was You, and Howard Preston is a lot bigger - and better - than life in Seventy-Six Trombones.
So, enjoy it for what it's worth. I just wish it were worth more.
My favorite song in the film was "Ya Got Trouble", probably because when the movie came out we had a pool table and I thought the song was appropriate. But let's not forget "Pick a Little Talk a Little" another song that I can't get out of my head. Watching it today makes me feel good, it was a time when the only thing you had to worry about was getting swindled by a salesman, I guess that never changed! If you enjoy musicals, great actors and a lot of fun, it's a must see.
America will never be the same again!
That's what makes this film so memorable -- the bravura performance of Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill. Watching Preston prance through the initial performance of "76 Trombones", or musically preach in "Ya Got Trouble", or make Shirley Jones hot in "Marian, The Librarian" is not to be forgotten.
The story is clever, as well -- a confidence man who attempts to hoodwink an entire Midwestern town, but cannot escape his conscience once he falls in love.
Shirley Jones is excellent here, as well. In fact, this is probably my favorite of her films. And her performance of "Till There Was You" is particularly moving. Buddy Hackett is a surprise here -- quite competent in this period before he became a rather off-color comedian. Paul Ford, usually a buffoon I don't enjoy that much, was ideal here as...well...a buffoonish mayor. Hermione Gingold is a hoot as his wife. And we all remember the immensely cute (at that time) Ronny Howard as the bashful Winthrop with a humiliating lisp.
I don't know how anyone can resist the charms of this delightful musical.
Robert Preston reprises his Tony Award-winning role as Professor Henry Hill--a shyster traveling salesman who is about to bilk yet another small town out of their money. His m.o. is this--he pretends to be a musical professor and convinces everyone to buy his overpriced musical instruments. He convinces them that it's easy for the town to create a band and become great--even though he apparently can't read music or play anything...except a con-game! Amazingly, the folks in this Iowa town are all complete idiots--and quickly fall for his routine. The only exception is the LOVELY town librarian, Marian (Shirley Jones). Soon she learns the truth--and at this point the film is simply terrific. However, what she does with this information makes no sense at all and the film loses a couple points in the final portion because of this as well as the town's reaction (though a hanging might have been more realistic, it would have been a bit dark!). In addition, while the songs are WONDERFUL, "Shipoopi" isn't. It, like the title, is pretty dumb--though the dance number is quite nice...but...SHIPOOPI?!?! Uggh! It has to rank as one of the dumber songs in film history. But, looking past the film's faults, it is a delight in so many other ways that it's still well worth seeing. Full of high energy and fun---it's still a lovely little film.
The 1962 film is based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name by Meredith Willson. The film was one of the biggest hits of the year and highly acclaimed critically.
Set in July 1912, a traveling salesman, "Professor" Harold Hill (Robert Preston), arrives in River City, Iowa, intrigued by the challenge of swindling the famously stubborn natives of Iowa ("Iowa Stubborn"). Masquerading as a traveling band instructor, Professor Hill plans to con the citizens of River City into paying him to create a boys' marching band, including instruments, uniforms, and music instruction. Once he has collected the money and the instruments and uniforms have arrived, he will hop the next train out of town leaving them without their money or a band.
With help from his associate Marcellus (Buddy Hackett), Professor Hill incites mass concern among the parents of River City that their young boys are being seduced into a world of sin and vice by the new pool table in town ("Ya Got Trouble"). He convinces them that a boys' marching band is the only way to keep the boys of the town pure and out of trouble, and begins collecting their money ("76 Trombones"). Hill anticipates that Marian (Shirley Jones), the town's librarian and piano instructor, will attempt to discredit him, so he sets out to seduce her into silence. Also in opposition to Hill is the town's Mayor Shinn, who orders the school board to obtain Hill's credentials. When they attempt to do so, Hill avoids their questions by teaching them to sing as a barbershop quartet via "sustained talking." They are thereafter easily tricked by Hill into breaking into song whenever they ask for his credentials.
Meanwhile, Hill attempts to win the heart of Marian the librarian, who has an extreme distrust of men. His charms have little effect upon Marian ("Marian the Librarian") until he wins the admiration of both her mother and her withdrawn and unhappy younger brother Winthrop (Ron Howard) ("Gary, Indiana"). Marian falls in love with Hill, and subsequently hides evidence she has proving he is a fraud ("Till There Was You"). The band's instruments arrive ("Wells Fargo Wagon") and Hill tells the boys to learn to play via the "Think System," in which they simply have to think of a tune over and over and will know how to play it without ever touching their instruments.
Hill's con is nearly complete and he is about to leave town when a disgruntled competing salesman comes to town and exposes Hill and his plans. Chased by an angry mob and pressed to leave town by Marcellus and Marian, Hill realizes that he is actually in love with Marian too and can't leave River City. He is captured by the mob and brought before a town meeting to be tarred and feathered. Hill is saved by the boys' band who miraculously have learned to play their own instruments (albeit incredibly badly). Hill remains in River City with Marian to conduct the boys' band full time, which eventually becomes properly trained and equipped with better quality instruments and uniforms. ("76 Trombones 2nd Reprise").
The film made Robert Preston into an "A" list star in motion pictures, after years of appearing in supporting roles in famous films and in starring roles in "B" movies. Although Preston scored a great success in the original stage version of the show, he was not first choice for the film version, partly because he was not a box office star. Jack L. Warner, who was notorious for wanting to film stage musicals with stars other than the ones who played the roles onstage, wanted Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby for the role of Professor Harold Hill, but Meredith Willson insisted upon Preston. Cary Grant was also "begged" by Warner to play Hill but he declined, saying "nobody could do that role as well as Bob Preston". Cary Grant was right...
Film and play both expertly capture pre-turn of the century middle America, and also renders with great authority the social clashes of the very late Victorian social ethic holdover from the middle 1800s. We see Madam librarian spar with the travelling salesman, and then discuss it with her more tempered and middle of the social road Momma Peru.
We're treated to an idealized America that in some less musical respects actually did exist at one point, right down to the town square and the population turning out for the fair ("exercises"), town hall meeting, the Wells Fargo wagon, and the gossiping ladies.
Social pressures weren't different than they are today, but the know how then was more driven by survival than by social trend. Therefore the solutions to some problems may seem quaint in execution, but they are nevertheless the same today.
Robert Preston, fresh from doing a number of westerns, does an outstanding job of playing the very slick and appealing fast talking out of towner with a bridge... er, band, to sell to the locals. He finds that he may have been sold a bill of goods when he tangles with a woman whose wits outweigh her wiles, played by the very beautiful Shirley Jones.
Unlike some musicals this film, to me at lest, carries a very masculine tone about it. We're watching irresistible force clash with immovable object, who trade places, collide, and wind up making an interesting go of things. All the while irresistible force city slicker is trying to pass off a completely made up self tutorial ("the think system") as a means to musical stardom. His objective, to cash in and cash out. Will he succeed?
If I had one complaint with this film, it's that the musical numbers are pretty frequent. I don't recall the such from the play, but then again it is Hollywood, so pacing the film took precedent here.
I wish I had more to say about everybody else, but pretty much the film speaks for itself. It's an exaggeration of a more innocent time, but is all the more entertaining for what it is.
There are many great musicals, and many of the best were made in the 1960s, including My Fair Lady and Sound of Music. Which is the best is a matter of taste and maturity, as they tend to have greatest appeal to different ages.
While I am partial to Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, and believe they generally have the most mature and enduring story lines, if I were recommend a musical that would have the broadest appeal it might be The Music Man because even the youngest children or oldest viewers can enjoy it. (I saw it on Broadway when I was younger than 10, and we sang the songs in music class when I was in elementary school, so I can vouch for this. And I still love the music.)
The only problem is that The Music Man is set in Iowa, USA, and I have found that many foreign viewers are either unfamiliar with American geography and history, or simply despise anything that might be construed as pro-American. The Music Man is the ultimate Americana musical. So I would have to say that this movie is not recommended for xenophobic foreigners -- their loss.
Every piece of music is a gem, and is closely integrated into the story line. And they are all eminently singable and whistleable. There is lots of dancing (check out the library number), wonderful costumes and sets, and a story line that is likely to hold your interest. And there are some great romantic songs.
On top of that, every single actor is perfect for the part, especially the irreplaceable Ron Howard, who will be eternally remembered for singing "The Wells Fargo Wagon." It is impossible to imagine The Music Man without Robert Preston. It is slightly amusing, in retrospect, seeing Shirley Jones as the co-star, for she seemed to be the star in almost every musical from the 1950s on up, yet you hardly notice that there's Shirley Jones again. She always fits the role so well that she just seems to belong there. She is a real actress, in addition to a being a fine singer.
When you watch this, get the special edition with extras. It will give you a lot of insight. The musical was based on the real Iowa city that Meridith Wilson grew up in, and while it is hardly a documentary, it seems it does reflect life there a century ago.
I have played portions of this movie for children abroad, and it was interesting to see how they responded to the opening number aboard the train, even when they didn't know English well. It has a surprisingly modern appeal in that it is almost like a rap number -- I guess they respond to the rhythm even when they don't know the words.
There is no shortage of interesting reviews here, so all I can say is if you haven't watched the Music Man, you are missing out on a musical gem. This is a fine romantic movie, without being a squirmy chick flick, so be sure to watch it with your significant other (great for Valentine's Day). If you have children, you will all be in for a treat, and if you don't, borrow some.
Musicals simply don't get any better than The Music Man.
However, if you are a foreigner who hates America and Americans, who thinks that the United States government has a Ministry of Patriotic Propaganda that secretly controls Hollywood, who only wants to see America portrayed in a bad light, with cars exploding in balls of flame and innocent people walking down the street having their brains blown out by drug crazed criminals, who believes America is a nation of imperialistic racists, then you might not enjoy the Music Man. And, yes, I have met many foreigners who actually believe this. If so, do not watch American films or TV show, and do not write anti-American movie reviews on IMDb. I am really getting sick of them.