There’s trouble in River City even if the people don’t realize the trouble. Luckily Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) has arrived. He’s not only identified the unknown trouble, but he’s got the perfect solution. Can he persuade the simple folk of River City of recognizing that they need his help? Will the salt of the earth citizens of this Iowa town fork up the money and commit to his quick fix? The only way these people can save their children from a life of crime is to make them join a band. Uniforms, instruments and music lessons will protect them from the sinful menace that is a pool hall. The Music Man is the greatest singing con of all time.
Turns out Harold Hill isn’t a musical genius. He’s not even a community leader. He’s a traveling salesman who isn’t satisfied unloading a couple worthless kitchen gadgets and nylons on a farmer’s wife. He dreams big. He want the whole town to be his rube. He’s got his spiel perfected as he creates the nonexistent problem and offers the expensive cure with an easy to pay installment plan that ends right before he hops a train to the next Suckerville that’s ready to be fleeced. He knows how to seed the fear in the yokels. He’ll even flirt with a local girl in the hopes that people think he’s committed to leading their community band. He’s so effective in his scam that other traveling salesmen hate his guts. After he nails a town, any man with a suitcase full of wares is unwelcomed.
River City looks like another notch in his belt of deception. Things go strange when he runs into his old hustling buddy Marcellus Washburn (Buddy Hackett). He’s not working an angle on the locals. He’s settled down and become one of them. Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones) is more than any of the previous local girls he’s seduced. Her little brother Winthrop (Ron Howard) is more trouble than any pool hall ruffian. Hill makes great strides in getting his scam working on the community. They dream of their children finding salvation in the form of a marching band. Can he resist the simple joys of River City and the heart of Marian? If he stays, he’ll be found out as an utter fraud who doesn’t understand the first thing about the instruments he sells. Can he subdue them with a wondrous song?
The Music Man is a musical that is timeless not just because of the showtunes, but the theme. There’s always a fresh Henry Hill on your TV set selling you a miracle cure to a disease you never knew existed. There are quite a few pundits on TV who get called Henry Hill for their amazing ability to instill fears of the most insignificant of events. They do their hardest to make you buy their books or attend their overpriced pubic events. Unfortunately those snakeoil salesmen don’t bring us joy in the form of “76 Trombones,” “Till There Was You” and “Ya Got Trouble.” The Simpons borrowed this production for their memorable episode about Springfield being sold a monorail.
Meredith Willson’s musical looks and feels extraordinary in Blu-ray. The high definition image brings out the production’s nostalgic look at an America that rode the rails, loved to sing and wasn’t connected by Dish TV. Shirley Jones glistens on the screen as the sweet music teacher. Music Man holds up under the intense glare found on a 1080p image. The little details sparkle in the frame. Preston’s finest performance can be properly savored as his every gesture tempts the locals into buying instruments and band uniforms to keep their children honest. You won’t be feeling ripped off at the end of this con job.
The video is 2.40:1 anamorphic. The 1080p image brings out the magnificence of Robert Burks’ cinematography. You can’t help, but get pulled into the colorful sets and dazzling wardrobe. Shirley Jones has a translucent glow. The audio is DTS-HD Master 5.1. The mix brings out the musical moments. You won’t need to adjust the volume during the talking scenes. There’s Spanish dub in Dolby Digital 1.0. The subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.
Introduction by Shirley Jones (2:00) has her talk about her desire to play the role after seeing it on Broadway. This was created for a 1999 release with the images lifted from a pan and scan transfer.
Right Here in River City: The Making of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man (22:01) is a documentary made for the 1999 release. Shirley Jones is the main interview subject. She also narrates the story of how the film brought trouble to River City. She talks about how the studio wanted Frank Sintara for Henry Hill. Meredith Willson insisted on Robert Preston or he’d kill the project. Buddy Hackett and Susan Luckey also tell of their times in the musical con game. There’s plenty of production photos mixed with the interviews and clips. They spent 9 months in production. Shirley Jones became pregnant in the middle of production. Plenty of great tales of how they hid her bump.
Trailer (0:56) is a pan and scan from a re-issue trailer. Although it has Preston’s address to the audience about what awaits when the picture comes out.
The Music Man deserves to be revived on your HDTV. Henry Hill is the ultimate music hustler as he takes River City for a ride. Robert Preston and Shirley Jones make this one of the great movie musicals as their love goes from con to heartfelt. If you don’t get this Blu-ray, there’s going to be trouble!
Warner Home Video presents The Music Man. Directed by: Morton DaCosta. Starring: Rober Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett and Ron Howard. Written by: Meredith Willson, Franklin Lacy and Marion Hargrove. Running time: 151 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Released on DVD: February 2, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.