I remember in junior high school, we had a music teacher who spent the whole semester reviewing and analyzing THE MUSIC MAN. I have to admit, it was one of my greatest classes of all-time, and years later I still remember it. So I have always had a soft spot for Meredith Wilson's THE MUSIC MAN. It is one of my personal favorite movie musicals, and definitely my favorite one from the 1960s.
The 1962 film is based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name by Meredith Willson. The film was one of the biggest hits of the year and highly acclaimed critically.
Set in July 1912, a traveling salesman, "Professor" Harold Hill (Robert Preston), arrives in River City, Iowa, intrigued by the challenge of swindling the famously stubborn natives of Iowa ("Iowa Stubborn"). Masquerading as a traveling band instructor, Professor Hill plans to con the citizens of River City into paying him to create a boys' marching band, including instruments, uniforms, and music instruction. Once he has collected the money and the instruments and uniforms have arrived, he will hop the next train out of town leaving them without their money or a band.
With help from his associate Marcellus (Buddy Hackett), Professor Hill incites mass concern among the parents of River City that their young boys are being seduced into a world of sin and vice by the new pool table in town ("Ya Got Trouble"). He convinces them that a boys' marching band is the only way to keep the boys of the town pure and out of trouble, and begins collecting their money ("76 Trombones"). Hill anticipates that Marian (Shirley Jones), the town's librarian and piano instructor, will attempt to discredit him, so he sets out to seduce her into silence. Also in opposition to Hill is the town's Mayor Shinn, who orders the school board to obtain Hill's credentials. When they attempt to do so, Hill avoids their questions by teaching them to sing as a barbershop quartet via "sustained talking." They are thereafter easily tricked by Hill into breaking into song whenever they ask for his credentials.
Meanwhile, Hill attempts to win the heart of Marian the librarian, who has an extreme distrust of men. His charms have little effect upon Marian ("Marian the Librarian") until he wins the admiration of both her mother and her withdrawn and unhappy younger brother Winthrop (Ron Howard) ("Gary, Indiana"). Marian falls in love with Hill, and subsequently hides evidence she has proving he is a fraud ("Till There Was You"). The band's instruments arrive ("Wells Fargo Wagon") and Hill tells the boys to learn to play via the "Think System," in which they simply have to think of a tune over and over and will know how to play it without ever touching their instruments.
Hill's con is nearly complete and he is about to leave town when a disgruntled competing salesman comes to town and exposes Hill and his plans. Chased by an angry mob and pressed to leave town by Marcellus and Marian, Hill realizes that he is actually in love with Marian too and can't leave River City. He is captured by the mob and brought before a town meeting to be tarred and feathered. Hill is saved by the boys' band who miraculously have learned to play their own instruments (albeit incredibly badly). Hill remains in River City with Marian to conduct the boys' band full time, which eventually becomes properly trained and equipped with better quality instruments and uniforms. ("76 Trombones 2nd Reprise").
The film made Robert Preston into an "A" list star in motion pictures, after years of appearing in supporting roles in famous films and in starring roles in "B" movies. Although Preston scored a great success in the original stage version of the show, he was not first choice for the film version, partly because he was not a box office star. Jack L. Warner, who was notorious for wanting to film stage musicals with stars other than the ones who played the roles onstage, wanted Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby for the role of Professor Harold Hill, but Meredith Willson insisted upon Preston. Cary Grant was also "begged" by Warner to play Hill but he declined, saying "nobody could do that role as well as Bob Preston". Cary Grant was right...