Over the years I’ve seen many musicals, both live and on film. Yet somehow, I’ve managed to go my whole life without ever seeing a single moment of the Music Man. It’s not that I’ve been against it in any way, I’ve simply just never gotten around to it. I began watching the newly released Blu-Ray completely unfamiliar with the story, the characters, or any of the music (although I did end up recognizing a lot of it, having never realized where the music came from). Going into a film blank is an exceptionally rare experience for me, and one I was eager to jump right into. Unfortunately, it turned out that I hadn’t been missing anything that great.
This is one of those movies made up of moments. There are fantastic set pieces, character beats and musical numbers throughout, but as a whole the story just doesn’t really come together. Robert Preston is a standout, bringing an energy and excitement to his role of con artist Harold Hill. Having perfected the role on Broadway, he supports the entire film with his performance. Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family) also shines as Hill’s love interest, “Marian the Librarian.”
Without these two performances, I don’t believe the film would be as renowned as it is today. The story revolves around Hill’s attempts to con River City, a small town in Iowa, into purchasing band equipment and lessons that he cannot provide. As we learn, he has scammed several towns prior to this one, collecting the money and running away. However, due to various circumstances, he can’t leave until the town has received their band uniforms. During this time, he falls in love with Marian, gets to know the citizens and manages to improve the town through music while they in turn make him a better man.
It’s a very simplistic story, and is dragged out over two hours and thirty minutes. In a film with so much boisterous energy and lively musical numbers, I was amazed at how slow the film actually felt. We spend so much time getting to know practically the entire town that we don’t really get to know anybody. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering how annoyingly caricatured several of the residents are. I understand that the movie is based on a play, but the performances still feel way too theatrical for the medium. The filmmakers needed to tone down these performances, but rather encouraged the slapstick and over-the-top goofy accents and voices.
Of course, The Music Man is a musical, and in this regard, the film is fantastic. I ended up recognizing the majority of the songs without even realizing I had heard them before. These are iconic songs, ones that have earned a place in the pantheon of great musical numbers. The main song of the film is Seventy-Six Trombones, a fantastic march that Hill uses to sell the idea of a band to the residents of the town.
However, some of the best musical moments are those that slowly evolve from regular dialogue, eventually transitioning into full-blown musical numbers. In fact, the opening sequence is like this, featuring a group of traveling salesman conversing through overlapping musical dialogue in time with the rhythms of their train. And sometimes, these different styles end up overlapping, with full-blown melodies integrated into the more conversational style of song.
As for the Blu-Ray itself, the picture looks and sounds terrific. The colors are vibrant and the image pops off the screen. The sound is flawless, with a clarity that enables us to hear every word of overlapping dialogue and perfectly realize every note of music. The extras however, are minimal. There is the original theatrical trailer, which is a lot of fun, and a feature called “Right Here in River City.”
Running just over 22 minutes, this is a terrific documentary featuring modern-day interviews intermixed with footage from filming. By incorporating current interviews with Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett and Onna White, they provide a modern perspective on what it was like to film this so many years ago. It’s apparent that everybody involved in this production had a great deal of admiration and respect for the finished product. They also seemed to have a great time actually filming it. Filled with anecdotes as well as insightful analysis, this is a bonus feature worth watching.
I just wish I could say that I liked the film itself more. While I loved the music and some of the performances, I couldn’t get past my frustration with the citizens of the town or the dragged out storyline. The film is worth seeing and I’m glad that I did, but I still can’t help but find the film overrated.