tek's rating:

The Music Man (G)
IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TCM; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikipedia

Caution: potential spoilers.

So, this movie is from 1962, which is thirteen years before I was born. It was based on a 1957 Broadway musical, and it's set in 1912. I'm finally watching it for the first time in 2012, but I've been at least vaguely aware of it for years, since it's been parodied or alluded to in any number of other things. The main thing I think of is an episode of The Simpsons from 1993, but I finally decided to order the DVD after an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that aired earlier this year (which in case you've forgotten, I said a moment ago is 2012). Anyway... I put in the DVD, and immediately what started was a brief introduction narrated by Shirley Jones (one of the movie's stars). At one point she mentioned that in 1962, Hollywood wasn't making big musicals like they did in the 40s and 50s, which I think is kind of amusing, because from my modern perspective, I could easily forget to differentiate between movies of those three decades. They're all "classics" to me. Of course, I haven't seen a lot of musicals from any era, though I must have seen at least a few on TV when I was a kid. I don't remember any particularly well now (with rare exceptions such as Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music), but I'm sure there are plenty of musicals from various decades that I'd like to see someday, whether for the first time or to refresh my memory. Anyway, enough preamble, time to get on with the review....

Like I said, it's set in 1912. A traveling salesman, or actually a con man, calling himself Professor Harold Hill, comes to River City, Iowa, where he plans to enact his latest scheme. Which happens to be selling marching band instruments, uniforms, and providing lessons, organization, and leadership for a boys' band. (I find this term rather amusing, since the term "boy band" means something somewhat different, today. Also it feels archaic to assume only boys could be in marching bands.) Hill unexpectedly meets a former partner of his named Marcellus Washburn, who now lives in River City and has an honest job. But Hill gets him to help out with his scheme. He needs to create a need for a band in the town, and does so by stirring up public concern over the new pool table in town, which Hill says could be the gateway to all sorts of degradation. And then he suggests a band as an alternative for taking up the local youths' free time. (I find it a bit odd that any town would need a band, when they live in a universe where music spontaneously comes out of nowhere at random intervals, as it does in musicals like this, but that's just overthinking it, I guess.)

Meanwhile, there's a local librarian and piano teacher named Marian Paroo, who Marcellus warns Hill would likely expose him as a fraud. So Hill decides to work his charm on her, to prevent that. However, she rejects his advances (much to the chagrin of her mother). But eventually Marian stops resisting Hill's charm, and even protects him from being exposed (in spite of knowing the truth about him). And... there are lots of other characters I should mention. There's Mayor Shinn (who kinda reminds me of the mayor from Twas the Night Before Christmas) and his wife (who kinda reminds me of Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served?). They're just as suspicious of Hill as Marian is, but they're much more easily distracted (Hill convinces Mrs. Shinn to start a women's dance auxiliary, or something). And there's a teenager named Tommy, a troublemaker who Hill gets to take an interest in things other than making trouble. And a girl named Zaneeta, who's dating Tommy, against the wishes of her father (who happens to be Mayor Shinn). (I can't help finding it adorable every time Zaneeta exclaims "Ye gods!") And there's the school board, four men who are constantly demanding Hill's credentials, but he easily distracts them by turning them into a barbershop quartet. And there's Marian's little brother, Winthrop, who doesn't talk much, because he's embarrassed about his lisp. But he gets excited about joining the band Hill's trying to start, which brings him out of his shell. (Seems a bit odd to me that Winthrop must be about 20 years younger than his sister, but whatever.) And there's a little girl named Amaryllis, a piano student of Marian's who feels some puppy love for Winthrop.

Well, I don't want to give away too much more about the plot. I do think it's a bit weak that the whole swindle rests in the fact that Hill doesn't know anything about teaching music. I mean, in real life, I find it hard to believe that the one who sells the instruments should be required to teach you how to play them, too. Though it did lead to an amusing running gag about the "think system." Anyway, the plot of the movie is somewhat predictable, as countless permutations have been done over the years in countless genres. This is just one of them. But it is a fairly shining example of the basic premise of a liar having a change of heart. And there's a happy ending, which is always nice.

Anyway... I wasn't wild about the first song in the movie, but most of the songs were incredibly fun, and there was some good choreography. The most memorable song was "Ya Got Trouble," which is the one I'm used to hearing parodied. There was one called "The Sadder But Wiser Girl" that Hill sang while just hanging out with Marcellus, which I thought was surprisingly suggestive, even if not actually bawdy, for a movie set in 1912... and I also thought it was a bit inappropriate that he sang it while Amaryllis was in the room (she seemed to enjoy it, but hopefully the suggestiveness went over her head). "Marian the Librarian" was an awfully funny song. All the barbershop quartet numbers were neat. "Shipoopi," sung by Marcellus, was fun in large part because I'd previously heard Peter sing it in an episode of Family Guy. Hill had some other fun songs, like "Gary, Indiana" and of course "Seventy-six Trombones" (which apparently was written for this musical, based on marches by John Philip Sousa, though I'd always thought Sousa himself had composed this song long before the musical existed). Marian had some very sweet and insightful songs, both sad and romantic (sometimes at the same time), including "Good Night, My Someone," "Being in Love," "Will I Ever Tell You" (which was paired with the quartet's "Lida Rose"), and "Till There Was You." And the townsfolk in general had some fun songs, too.

The movie was almost constantly hilarious, and redonkulous, and clever. And eventually became rather romantic. And virtually no detail of the plot was wasted; plenty of things that seemed random at first, later turned out to have some purpose. And the cast was pretty good. Buddy Hackett (Marcellus) I must have seen or heard in numerous things before. Robert Preston (Harold Hill) I know I've at least seen in The Last Starfighter (in a role reminiscent of the one in this movie, even if he was an alien). Shirley Jones (Marian) was good, though I'm not sure I've seen her in anything else (somehow I keep thinking she was in "Pete's Dragon," but I'm confusing her with Helen Reddy; I really need to watch that again someday). Ron Howard (Winthrop) was familiar from The Andy Griffith Show. And those are probably the only people in the cast I know at all, but everyone else was quite good, too. And I guess that's all I can think to say.


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