Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Morality Police
- Robert Preston Films
- Shirley Jones Films
- Small Town America
Robert Preston reprised his Tony Award-winning role in this colorful Technirama adaptation of the Broadway musical, directed by Morton DaCosta (who earlier helmed Aunt Mame — not listed in GFTFF). It’s filled with enjoyable musical acts, beginning with a trainful of salesmen chant-singing “Rock Island” while getting us instantly up to speed on who the infamously slippery “music man” (currently going by the moniker “Professor Hall”) really is:
From there, nearly every song cleverly moves the narrative forward. “Iowa Stubborn,” for instance, shows us the temperament of the conservative town Hall has come to visit and work with:
Oh, there’s nothing halfway,
About the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you,
Which we may not do at all!
… and once Hall discovers the town’s Achilles heel (the arrival of a brand new billiards table), he exploits it to the nth degree (as sung in “Ya Got Trouble”):
Friend, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community.
Jones and her mother and brother enter the picture next, and we come to understand she’s seeking a romantic partner, but not just anyone — rather, with that special “someone” who she sings goodnight to (“Goodnight, My Someone”).
Hall excites the town with the idea of a band (“76 Trombones”), and then sets to work flattering and machinating like crazy. We see the magic of his “Think System” as he miraculously pulls together a barbershop quartet:
… then listens to a gaggle of self-righteous women talk trash about Marian the Librarian while singing the hilarious “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little”, interwoven with dialogue:
Maud (Sara Seegar): Professor, her kind of woman doesn’t belong on any committee. Of course I shouldn’t tell you this but she advocates dirty books.
Hall: Dirty books?
Alma (Adnia Rice): Chaucer!
Eulalie (Gingold): BALZAC!
(Never before have I thought about this French author’s name in such a provocative way…)
In “The Sadder But Wiser Girl”, Hill shares his preference for “women with experience” (which he wrongly believes Marian is):
I can tell you that right now
I snarl, I hiss: How can ignorance be compared to bliss?
I spark, I fizz for the lady who knows what time it is
I cheer, I rave for the virtue I’m too late to save.
— and we then see Marian in her workplace, noting how easily Hall can distract her and cause a ruckus while singing “Marian the Librarian”:
The second half of the film is less exciting, but still has a few more infectious numbers to come — including “Gary, Indiana”:
… “The Wells Fargo Wagon” (featuring cutely lisping Ronnie Howard):
… and barbershop quartet “Lida Rose” deftly woven with “Will I Ever Tell You?”:
Other notable highlights include Hermione Gingold’s amusingly colorful performance as the mayor’s wife:
… Pert Kelton as Marian’s concerned but loving mother:
… and Timmy Everett’s* impressive dancing (seen here during “The Shipoopee” — not a personal favorite, but the choreography’s fun):
The film’s fantastical finale has been oft-discussed, and may or may not seem like the best choice possible — but it brings the film to a rousing, feel-good close:
While it’s over-long and could have benefited from some trimming, this enjoyably filmed musical remains worth a look.
* Everett tragically died in his sleep at the age of 38 from an apparent heart attack; he never married.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- Robert Preston as Harold Hill
- Many enjoyable musical numbers
- Fine Technirama cinematography
Yes, for Preston’s performance and the enjoyable songs. Selected in 2005 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
- Noteworthy Performance(s)
- Oscar Winner or Nominee