Around Indianapolis, we can take our marching bands pretty seriously. For the past ten years my family has had a kid in the band, starting with me. Through the years we’ve been to countless competitions, a few parades, won and lost some big titles. Sometimes I forget what a sweet and honest thing a marching band can be. They can bring a town together through both sight and sound, they seem to be a perfect staple in Midwest Americana. Nearly every small town brings theirs out and down main street for Fourth of July parades and other special occasions, whether it’s the local high school or the American Legion.
In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) is a notorious traveling salesman who makes a fortune swindling small towns into creating a marching band. He orders the equipment and uniforms, then leaves town with the money, since he has no musical wits. When he arrives in River City, Iowa, everyone is very unfriendly and hardly says two words to him or each other. In order to unite the people, he plants the idea that the new pool table is a game of sin that could turn their young boys into ruffians. In order to keep the boys “moral after school” he proposes a marching band.
To cover his tail, Harold seeks out the town piano teacher and librarian, Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones). She seems to always be weary of Harold and doesn’t believe his credentials. His plan is to charm her so she does not see that he knows nothing about music. When the two strike up a romance, leaving town won’t be so easy.
This is one of the most enjoyable musicals I’ve ever seen. Personally, I can become annoyed when characters just start to sing in a whim, but The Music Man puts some interesting leads into their songs. Elements within the setting can help springboard a song, like in the very beginning where the salesmen speak in the rhythm of the train or how Marian and her mother carry on a conversation while little Amaryllis is practicing her scales. Explaining it could sound cheesy, but I assure you, it’s great fun.
Throughout the film, we see River City become more and more excited about their new found musical talent. When men from the school board (The Buffalo Bills Quartet) confront Harold about his credentials, he distracts them, multiple times by nudging them into a song. Harold also turns Tommy (Timmy Everett) the town bad-boy into a more productive young man, inventing a music holder for flute players. But best of all, all this excitement moves cute little Withrop (Ron Howard) to sing, even though the boy is ashamed of his lisp and hardly says a word.
The Music Man would make for a wonderful family film night. It’s very sweet, colorful and wholesome, but not so much that it could make your teenagers eyes roll. You don’t need to have kids, history lessons or any musical inclinations to enjoy The Music Man. Just kick back and let it surprise you.
“Seventy-six trombones led the big parade. With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand.”