The Music Man
Directed by Morton DaCosta
Look, not every cinephile loves every genre. It's the truth, and there's no point in pretending otherwise. Movie reviews are subjective things, and genre is one of the biggest sources of bias. As diverse as my tastes may be, musicals are one genre for which I generally have little time. Maybe it's something about the verisimilitude of the filmed image, and how random singing and dancing sort of breaks the illusion of reality in a way that it does not on stage. I can't say for sure; all I can do is cop to the fact that most movie musicals—old, new, or in-between—leave me cold.
With that out of the way, let me say that I quite liked The Music Man, on the whole. Perhaps this is because it plays on a couple of my favorite tropes: con men and early 20th-century Americana. Traveling salesman and flim-flam artist "Professor" Henry Hill (Robert Preston) rides into River City, Iowa, ready to perpetrate a scam involving a boys' marching band that he is in no way qualified to lead. In spite of resistance from the Mayor (Paul Ford) and the willful librarian/piano teacher Marion Paroo (Shirley Jones), the quick-talking Hill begins to win over the town's residents, but there are signs that, this time, the con might play out a little differently.
The Music Man is a rather well-made musical, hearkening back to the classic ones made in the genre's heyday. Morton DaCosta's staging and Onna White's choreography make good use of Robert Burks's widescreen Technirama cinematography, which allows the dancers' full bodies to remain in frame without sacrificing the sets and scenery. Preston, who had played Hill on stage, really owns the role and makes a wonderful scoundrel. Jones is winsome and winning as Marian, almost making me forget her time as the matriarch of The Partridge Family. All of the sets and costumes (seersucker and boaters as far as the eye can see!) are appropriately old-timey and colorful, making River City a genuine leading character.
My only real problems with the film are its length—which, at over two-and-a-half hours, does feel a little excessive—and the slightly-dated ambiance endemic to most classic musicals. Still, the sharp, funny dialog and memorable tunes go a long way towards making up for these problems, and if you're a fan of the genre (and somehow haven't already seen the film), you'll probably come away quite happy.