One of the great things about Blu-ray is that it gives us the chance to see older films that we may have missed during our formative years. 'The Music Man' is one from the list of movies that I'm gradually working my way through. It was shown on black & white TV (yes kiddywinks, that's what we had before colour) when I was a youngster and was heavily promoted at the time. Although it looked great fun, somehow I didn't get to see it - so years later with the Blu-ray release I can happily report that it's just as stonking good a musical as I'd hoped it would be. In fact, the word is fantastic!
Now, there are some among us who say they don't like movies where people burst out singing. Well, that's called a Musical and sometimes if you just relax your fear of enjoying yourself then you too might experience how wonderful it feels to have your heart soar and your spirits lifted by a rousing tune. Sounding trendily cynical in front of your mates is nothing compared to the pleasure that can be gained from seeing great musical numbers performed to perfection.
Released in 1962 (when I was four years old) this movie won a statuette for Best Music at the 1963 Oscars and was nominated in 5 other categories, including Best Picture. Its star, Robert Preston, had played the role of con man Professor Harold Hill in a phenomenally successful Broadway run and returned at the tender age of 44 to bring it to the big screen in Technicolor and Technirama - a widescreen process with a similar aspect ratio to Cinemascope. Robert Preston also starred, along with Julie Andrews, in the musical comedy 'Victor/Victoria' in the 1980's.
In a nutshell, a travelling confidence trickster arrives in River City, Iowa with the sole intention of working a scam that he's had great success with elsewhere. He aims to convince the town's folk that they need, more than anything, to start a marching band. Naturally he plans to sell them the musical instruments and uniforms then get out of town before a note is played - as he doesn't know the first thing about music.
With great skill, he charms everyone in town - all that is except for Marian (the Librarian) Paroo, played by the lovely Shirley Jones who will be remembered as the mother in TV's 'The Partridge Family' from the 1970's.
Shirley Jones has a beautiful, classically trained, singing voice which does full justice to such numbers as 'Goodnight my Someone' and 'Till there was you'. I always wondered from which Musical the latter came.
Robert Preston brings great energy to the role of Harold Hill - and to think Warner Bros originally wanted Frank Sinatra for the part. He performs 'Trouble in River City' with convincing charm as he warns the locals of the moral dangers of the new pool table on the young men of the town.
'....that's trouble that starts with T, that rhymes with P and that stands for Pool.'
The show stopping '76 trombones' is performed with such tremendous gusto by Preston that it makes your chest swell with the desire to join in. It's one of those great tunes that puts a smile on your face and gets inside your head - then it stays there forever.
The colour and the spectacle of the marching band sequence are the perfect remedy for a dull Winter's evening with the bright reds of the uniforms and the glistening instruments.
It's not just the instruments that sparkle here for there are many gems in this musical.
Four of the townsmen just happen to be 'The Buffalo Bills' - a barbershop quartet whose amazing close harmony is showcased in several numbers. They take part in a counterpoint presentation, which uses the full width of the front soundstage, as they sing 'Goodnight ladies' merging with the female cast, including Hermione Gingold, who sing 'Pick a little'. The timing is precise, it works wonderfully and sounds superb!
Another surprise was to find that Marian Paroo's little brother was played by a scene stealing, ginger mopped, young Ron Howard (billed as Ronny Howard in the credits). He will be forever remembered as Ritchie Cunningham in 'Happy Days' but he's more well known these days for directing such movies as 'Apollo 13' and more recently 'Frost/Nixon'. His delivery of the 'Gary, Indiana' number is funny as he performs it with a lisp - and it's another song that I wondered from whence it came.
He probably dies of embarassment whenever he hears it.
The direction of 'The Music Man' belies its stage show beginnings, which should come as no great surprise as both were directed by the same man, Morton DaCosta.
He uses an interesting theatrical lighting technique at the end of some sequences where the lighting on the set fades down leaving the principal performers lit against a black background - much like a front of curtain spotlight - before it fades out too. It's unusual to see this in a movie and the only other time I recall seeing it was on 'Auntie Mame' - another film by Morton DaCosta.
'The Music Man' will be seen by some as an old fashioned kind of movie, but there can be no denying that it contains a lot of the same elements that made Michael Crawford's run in 'Barnum' on the West End stage such a massive hit. It's cheerful, upbeat, the songs are catchy and performed well - above all else it's a feel good movie that will transport us from recession torn Britain to a colourful, warm Iowa.
We're always keen to see the latest, modern day release arrive on Blu-ray but so often we are disappointed by things that don't quite work. Here we have a piece of hidden treasure that has been given a good dusting off and proves that although it was made in the 1960's it beats many new movies hands down as it is that rare commodity - a joyous good movie. Share the joy with your family tonight.
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