The Music Man (1962)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Music Man</strong> (1962)

(On Cable TV, October 2018) It actually took me two attempts to get into The Music Man. Made at a time when the Hollywood musical had been defined, achieved and was nearing its degenerative phase, it’s a musical that knows it’s a musical and relies a lot on audience expectations in order to achieve its effects. This is most clearly seen in the rough opening sequence where the sounds of a train provide inspiration for an oddly syncopated and arrhythmic first number that will have more than one viewer wondering what the heck is going on. (Cue my second attempt to watch the film.) Things sharply improve once The Music Man hits the sheer singalong hilarity of “Ya Got Trouble” and then on to “Marian the Librarian” and “Shipoopi.” Once you understand what the film is aiming for, it becomes far more enjoyable. Lead actor Robert Preston certainly helps—his distinctive voice is a joy to listen, and his ease with the role (which he performed for a few years on Broadway) shows in the practised charm of his performance. He certainly lends a lot of his comfort to the story itself, which consciously goes back to early-twentieth-century Midwest small town for its atmosphere and plot devices. By the time the story wraps up with (what else?) a big parade, The Music Man has become a musical classic, easily ranking among the best 1960s musicals. I can envision replaying this one for the sheer fun of the musical numbers. If the lead character feels familiar to first-time viewers, it’s probably because of the classic Simpsons “Marge vs the Monorail” episode, in which the huckster character coming to town is very clearly modelled on Preston’s archetypical work here.

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