It’s a tough call – a really, really tough call – as to what my favorite movie musical is. I was raised on them. By kindergarten I already had most of Sound of Music, Pirates of Penzance and Kiss Me, Kate memorized. I have a horrible memory when it comes to names, numbers, directions, shopping lists…but put something to music and it’s locked away forever. Especially movie musicals.
Anyway, if I had to pick a favorite, I’m sure it would be a 5-way tie, but one of the leading contenders would be The Music Man.
Harold Hill (Robert Preston) is a traveling salesman who goes from small town to small town, selling something rather unique – boys’ marching bands. He comes to town, sells instrument, uniforms and sheet music, and while they wait for it all to be delivered, he “teaches” the boys how to play music. The catch is, it’s a total con. “Professor” Harold Hill doesn’t read a lick of music himself. He fakes the teaching until the uniforms and instruments arrive, and then he grabs all the cash and makes a run out of town.
Now he’s come to River City, Iowa, a small midwest town full of straight-laced, closed-minded folks who don’t care to try new things like boys’ marching bands. There is also a shrewd piano teacher/librarian (Shirley Jones) who sees through his act from the beginning. Prof. Hill creates a moral/culture “crisis” in the town, for which the only solution is a boys’ marching band. (I promise, it makes sense once you see it.) The majority of the town, afeared of moral/cultural crises, is quickly brought under his charms and handing him money hand-over-fist so they can have “the best boys’ band in the state of Iowa!” No one will listen to Marion, because Prof. Hill tells them what they want to hear, and Marion has a bad reputation and few real friends in town to begin with.
In order to keep Marion the Librarian from exposing him to the town, Prof. Hill starts to lay on the romance thick, which at first comes to nothing. But when Marian’s kid brother is taken under the spell of the band, she decides to give Hill a chance. Before she knows it, she’s falling in love with him. Meanwhile, Hill is counting the minutes until the last shipment of uniforms comes in so he can grab the money and the next train out of town. But suddenly he’s finding himself falling in love, too, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. Especially since everything he’s ever told Marion about himself has been a 100% Grade-A Lie.
When the day arrives – accompanied by a rival traveling salesman bent on destroying Prof. Hill – will he revert to his old moneygrubbing ways, leaving a broken-hearted librarian (and family) behind him? Or will he come clean and face the consequences of scamming an entire town with a great talent for holding grudges?
There is so much I love about this movie, particularly Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. They are a great team and each bring their own unique strengths to the movie. Preston is graceful and strongly charismatic, half-speaking most of his songs for emphasis, which I like. Jones is beautiful and sweet and strong and oh-so-much fun to sing along with. The variety of supporting characters are some of Hollywood’s finest and round out the cast perfectly.
The book itself is superb. It’s easy to find yourself humming the tunes days after you watch. The lyrics are fantastic. Wonderfully rapid-paced verses from “Trouble in River City” and “Pick a Little, Talk a Little,” and the sweet ballads of “Goodnight, My Someone” and “Till There Was You.” Magic. And the way the rhythm of the lyrics is used to actually drive the pace of the songs, which is hard to describe until you actually hear it. And there aren’t many more exciting songs than “76 Trombones.” You can’t help wanting to get up and march yourself!
The Music Man will be on TCM on Sunday, February 3, at 7:00 pm CST.
Also, beginning this Friday is TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar. Which means 31 Days of the Best of the Best, which as you can imagine, has me plotzing! I’ll still feature only one movie every Monday, but you’ll be seeing this section growing throughout the month. There will be SO many great movies coming on, I want to make sure we don’t miss a one! So don’t forget to look through the Honorable Mentions every week!
The Mark of Zorro (1940) – Monday, January 28, 7:00 pm CST
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – Tuesday, January 29, 2:15 pm CST
The Farmer’s Daughter (1947) – Wednesday, January 30, 7:00 pm CST
Cat Ballou (1965) – Thursday, January 31, 7:00 pm CST
The Public Enemy (1931) – Friday, February 1, 9:30 am CST
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Friday, February 1, 5:15 pm CST
Sergeant York (1941) – Friday, February 1, 4:45 am CST
Casablanca (1942) – Saturday, February 2, 7:00 pm CST
The Maltese Falcon (1941) – Saturday, February 2, 9:00 pm CST
My Fair Lady (1964) – Sunday, February 3, 10:00 pm CST
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) – Sunday, February 3, 3:00 am CST (Sunday night)