Monday, April 23, 2012

"The Music Man" with Robert Preston, Shirley Jones and Buddy Hackett (1961)

This is a timeless film which never grows old. With Robert Preston reprising the Broadway role he performed 1,375 times, and teamed with veteran Shirley Jones, this film is still a sure fire piece of entertainment. From the opening scene with the salesmen on the train until the final moments of the story, you can count on feeling the lure of a nation once made up of the small towns, and the equally small hustlers who traversed the country in search of that most desirable gem; “the rube.”

When Professor Harold Hill, played by Robert Preston, arrives in River City, Iowa, he is there for one purpose only; to scam the townsfolk into forming a band for the boys, purely out of concern for their well-being. At least that’s his rap. What he really wants is to get as many orders as possible for the band outfits and instruments necessary for the band before he leaves town, intent on never returning. He is, in short, a con artist.

But, even the most well laid plans of mice and men; it is said; often go astray. And that’s exactly how it goes for Professor Hill. After stepping off the train he meets his old cohort, Marcellus Washburn, played by Buddy Hackett, who has settled happily into small town life working at the local livery stable. Professor Hill is appalled at this, and quickly moves to enlist his old friends help in getting the town excited about having a Boy’s Band. It will, he tells them, elevate their town above all others in the state. But to accomplish this ruse he must win over the town’s icily cold widowed librarian, Marian Paroo, played by Shirley Jones. And as he attempts to do that, he finds himself falling in love with the librarian, as well as the town.

Ron Howard plays the librarian’s son Winthrop, who lives with Marion and her mother, Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, played by Hermione Gingold. The elder woman is much taken by Professor Hill, while her daughter is more than indifferent to him. Indeed, she is hostile towards him, displaying her distrust of his motives from the very first time they meet. But the salesman in Professor Hill has a need to win at all costs, even if it means an end to his wayward profession.

This film was released just as Ron Howard was making his television debut on the Andy Griffith Show, where he played Sherriff Taylor’s son Opie. Watching him in this film is really interesting. It’s a tribute to the people surrounding him in this film; as well as the Andy Griffith Show; that he grew up to become one of the most beloved, and respected of Hollywood filmmakers.

Filled with great musical numbers; my favorite being “You’ve Got Trouble”, and also the moving “Til There Was You”, which was even a hit for The Beatles in 1963; this movie is a sheer delight to watch.  The embedding codes were disabled for "You've Got Trouble"; but here is the link to that wonderfully exciting number. With words and music by Meredith Wilson, the song is tailor made to highlight Robert Preston’s unique talents;

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