The Music Man (1962)

I have never understood those hats.

“This is a refined operation, son, and I’ve got it timed down to the last wave of the brakeman’s hand on the last train out of town.”

The Music Man is, as one reviewer put it, what musicals are all about. It has the grand numbers, the syrupy romance, the comedy, and Shirley Jones. What more could you want? Maybe Grace Kelly and Joan Fontaine.

No, I’m kidding. This film boasts a great cast, with schmaltzy Robert Preston leading the pack. It confuses me that actors such as Paul Ford (Mayor Shinn), Susan Luckey (Zaneeta Shinn), and Harry Hickox (Charlie Cowell) didn’t enjoy a more successful film career.

Although just a supporting part (with far too little screen time), Mayor Shinn was my favorite character in the film. Nearly every line he shouted (“Watch your phraseology!”, “Not one poop out of you, Madam!”, and, of course, “Fourscore…”) made me laugh out loud. He would probably make it into my list of Top 20 Favorite Characters.

Robert Preston fits his part to a “T”. “Tee”? How do you write that? Never mind. He is the prime example, the sparkling epitome of a darn good traveling salesman. (Seriously, The Music Man should be required viewing for all persons who are considering a career in salesmanship.) His “songs” remind me somewhat of Danny Kaye’s tongue-twisters. He recites them perfectly, with unequaled enthusiasm. He’s funny, he can sing, he can dance, and he can convince every single soul in River City, Iowa that they desperately need a boys’ marching band.

Shirley Jones’s character, Marian Paroo, is wonderful. She despises Harold Hill (Preston), but he persistently lays on more and more charm until she finally gives in. Funny, he uses my technique.

Okay, so the “she-hates-him-at-the-beginning-but-comes-to-love-him-before-the-credits-roll” story line is a tad overused, but the chemistry between Jones and Preston make it seem almost new. I was amazed and amused by the intrigue of their inexplicable relationship.

The film features Buddy Hackett in a small part, and he never fails to make me laugh. That’s a bonus. The film also presents a 7-year-old Ron Howard, who sings a delightful, melodic rendition of “Gary, Indiana“.

Ha! But seriously, folks. To recap:

PROS:

1. It’s hilarious.

2. It’s innocent fun.

3. It has some GREAT songs, including “Sadder But Wiser Girl For Me”, “If You Don’t Mind Me Saying So”, “Sincere”, “Shipoopi”, and “Marian the Librarian”.

4. It has a great cast: Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, Susan Luckey, and Ron(ny) Howard.

5. It’s filmed in beautiful Technicolor.

6. It’s one of the best Broadway adaptations ever made.

7. It’s long, but every minute is entertaining.

8. It has that sort of slightly-altered reality. It’s somewhat surrealistic.

9. It’s a bit sappy. But in a good way. A very good way.

10. It’s a “glimmering slice of Americana”. Whatever that means.

CONS:

1. “Gary, Indiana“.

Seriously, you will have that song stuck in your head for WEEKS. I suggest skipping that entire song, or at least muting it. Consider that song the film’s intermission.

Synopsis

Harold Hill (Preston), a freewheeling con man, stops by River City, Iowa, after fellow (I use the term loosely) salesmen inform him that the town is the biggest test possible of a salesman’s abilities. Hill intends to cheat the town by offering to equip and train a boys’ marching band, and then skip town with the money. Things go awry when he falls for a beautiful librarian (Jones) who threatens to expose him to the townspeople.

Information

Directed by Morton DaCosta;

Written by Meredith Wilson (play on which it was based), Franklin Lacey (play on which it was based), Marion Hargrove (screenplay);

Starring Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill, Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo, Buddy Hackett as Marcellus Washburn, Ron Howard as Winthrop Paroo, Paul Ford as Mayor George Shinn, Hermione Gingold as Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, and Susan Luckey as Zaneeta Shinn;

Produced by Morton DaCosta (producer), and Joel Freeman (associate producer);

Music by Ray Heindorf (conductor, orchestrator, music supervisor), and Meredith Wilson (music and lyrics).

Facts

Although Robert Preston had played the role of Harold Hill on Broadway, he was not even considered for the film until Cary Grant turned down the role. Frank Sinatra was Warner Brothers’ other choice for the role, but Meredith Wilson told them, “No Robert Preston, no movie”.

Shirley Jones discovered, during production, that she was pregnant with her son, Patrick.

The original Broadway production opened at the Majestic Theater on December 19th, 1957, and ran for 1,375 performances. The show won the 1958 Tony Award for Best Musical, and Preston received the 1958 Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. Pert Kelton (Mother Paroo) and The Buffalo Bills also reprise their roles in the film.

Before starring in The Music Man, Robert Preston had never sung a note.

The songs “76 Trombones” and “Goodnight My Someone” are the same tune arranged in different time signatures.

River City was based on Meredith Wilson’s home town of Mason City, Iowa. The movie had its world premiere there.

The marching bands of the University of California and the University of Southern California were drafted in for the final parade scene.

Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana… *sigh*

-luke

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The Court Jester (1955)

The perfect example of Kaye's comic versatility.

“King of jesters and jester to the king.”

Due to limited time, limited brainpower, and the aggravating unreliability of modern technology, this week’s post will be somewhat shorter than usual. *all four of SC’s regular readers emit a sharp gasp*

Are you ready to laugh? You’d better be. The Court Jester is perhaps the perfect introduction to comedy legend Danny Kaye. To give you an idea of how funny he really was, listen to this: he was Bob Hope’s favorite comedian, he received a Special Tony Award for heading a variety bill at the Palace Theatre, and he once conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra at New York’s Carnegie Hall with his feet. That’s what I call skill.

Anyway, a movie like this is indeed a rare find. It blends romance, adventure, and superb comedy. Wit, thy name is Kaye!  And Fine. And Frank. And Panama. And–sorry.

But seriously, The Court Jester is, quite simply, whimsy. It’s pure merriment. It’s one of those movies from which you walk away saying, “I didn’t learn a thing. But I had fun.” And, really, that’s what comedy is all about. Satire is great, I’ll admit. But, overall, I enjoy innocent and/or senseless humor much more than humor that makes a statement.

I contradict myself a lot, don’t I? Well, I apologize. But seriously, you’re going to have to get used to it.

There are some classic routines in this film, including “Vessel with the pestle…”, “The Maladjusted Jester” (a tongue-twisting song written by Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine), and the oft-repeated line, “Get it?” “Got it.” “Good.” Dana Carvey did NOT create that line. Carvey may be The Master of Disguise, but the title of Master of Comedy belongs to Danny Kaye.

(Wasn’t that a clever, bitingly sarcastic statement? I thought so.)

Here’s my professional suggestion: Make yourself comfortable. Watch this movie. Eat chocolate. That’s my technique, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Synopsis

The throne of rightful king of England, the small babe with the purple pimpernel birthmark, has been usurped by the evil King Roderick. Only the Black Fox can restore the true king to the throne. The task falls to Hawkins (Kaye), the gentlest (and perhaps most clueless) member of the Fox’s band. The Fox’s lieutenant, Maid Jean (Johns), guards Hawkins and the babe while they travel, but when they meet the King’s new jester on the road, they decide to initiate a daring plan for Hawkins to replace him, become an intimate at the court, and steal the key. So, humble, bumbling Hawkins becomes Giacomo: the king of jesters and jester to the king.

Information

Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama;

Written by Melvin Frank (screenplay) and Norman Panama (screenplay);

Starring Danny Kaye as Hubert Hawkins, Glynis Johns as Maid Jean, Angela Lansbury as Princess Gwendolyn, and Basil Rathbone (who is awesome, by the way; one of my favorite dramatic actors) as Sir Ravenhurst;

Produced by Melvin Frank (producer), Norman Panama (producer), Sylvia Fine (executive producer), and Danny Kaye (executive producer);

Music by Vic Schoen, Walter Scharf (uncredited), Sylvia Fine (songs);

Facts

Apparently Danny Kaye’s legs (in tights) were not satisfactory to the film’s producers, so they made him wear “leg falsies” to improve the shape of his legs. I, of course, would not need any such assistance.

Basil Rathbone was, in real life, a world-class fencer. Thanks to his efforts, the scene was filmed without injury. Supposedly, he later admitted that several times he was almost run through with Kaye’s sword. However…

…It’s also been said that Kaye’s sword movements were too fast for poor Basil, who, though still in great shape, was 63 at the time. Also supposedly, the fight choreographer dressed up as Rathbone’s character and was filmed from behind for the fast sections.

Oh, and if this post is completely incomprehensible, I have an excuse. I’ve been preparing for a big debate tournament all week, and I’ve just returned from the actual event. So, in conclusion, I apologize if the post is cryptic. It’s no fault of my own.

-luke

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

The Wonder Car.

“Good morning. I hope you had a pleasant journey. In a few minutes we will be landing in Vulgaria.”

It’s fantastic. It’s absurd. It’s whimsical. It’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Sure, it’s juvenile. That’s what makes it so fun!

If you’re like me, you remember this film from your childhood. And if you’re like me, you remember the undeniably singable songs, “Up from the Ashes”, “P.O.S.H.”, and, of course, the theme song. The songs in this film, masterfully created by the Sherman Brothers, are some of the rare songs you are happy to have stuck in your head.

But the songs aren’t everything. There is an exceptionally imaginative story, written by Roald Dahl (the mind behind Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and last year’s Fantastic Mr. Fox) and based on a novel by Ian Fleming (the creator of the enormously popular James Bond series). For pure, unhindered, surrealistic storytelling, there isn’t a better team on Earth.

Dick Van Dyke (who plays the eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts, to perfection) had gotten his start in showbiz only a few years before Chitty’s release. A mere five years earlier, he had gotten his first starring role in the musical comedy, Bye Bye Birdie. In autumn of the next year, the extremely popular family film, Mary Poppins, was released, in which he played Bert/Mr. Dawes Senior. Then, of course, there was “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, which enjoyed a five-season run, from 1961-1966. Although Chitty was not well-received by critics (or audiences, at the time of its release), it remains my favorite Van Dyke film.

This film is nostalgia for many of us, but for those of you who have not seen the movie, I have a few warnings for you. Firstly, this film was made for children. However, it’s considerably more intellectual than anything you’ll find “for kids” nowadays. It’s a movie that explores imagination. Most modern children’s films ignore the miracle altogether. It’s a movie to make you wonder. It’s an exhilarating breath of fresh air. A rare find: a movie with heart.

Synopsis

In early 20th century England, eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) struggles to make ends meet. He lives with his equally eccentric father (Lionel Jefferies) and his two children. When the children beg Caractacus to purchase their favorite plaything–a broken-down jalopy in a local junkyard–he does everything he can to obtain the funds with which to buy it. One scheme to raise money involves the unexpected assistance of a beautiful and wealthy young woman they have just met named Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), the daughter of a candy factory owner. Caractacus eventually acquires the needed money and buys the car.

Using his inventing skills, Caractacus transforms the piece of junk into a beautiful working machine, which they name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (because of the noise the engine makes). At a seaside picnic with his children and Truly, Caractacus spins a fanciful tale of an eccentric inventor, his pretty girlfriend (who is the daughter of a candy factory owner), his two children, and a magical car named Chitty all in the faraway land of Vulgaria. The ruthless buffoon Baron Bomburst, the ruler of Vulgaria, will do whatever he can to get his hands on the magical car. Furthermore, children have been outlawed in Vulgaria. Caractacus and the gang must save Chitty–and the children of Vulgaria.

Information

Directed by Ken Hughes;

Written by Ian Fleming (novel on which it was based), Roald Dahl (screenplay), Ken Hughes (screenplay), Richard Maibaum (additional dialogue);

Starring Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious, Lionel Jefferies as Grandpa Potts, Gert Fröbe as Baron Bomburst, Anna Quayle as Baroness Bomburst, Benny Hill as Toymaker, and Robert Helpmann as Child Catcher;

Produced by Albert R. Broccoli (producer), and Stanley Sopel (associate producer);

Music by Irwin Kostal (conductor, music supervisor), Richard M. Sherman (music and lyrics), and Robert B. Sherman (music and lyrics).

Facts

Lionel Jeffries played Dick Van Dyke’s father, despite the fact that Dick Van Dyke is actually six months older than Jeffries.

Besides the failed Bob Hope film, Call Me Bwana, and the unfinished Nijinsky, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the only non-James Bond film to be produced by Albert R. Broccoli.

The colors of the floating Chitty–purple, green, and white–were the colors of the women’s suffrage movement of that time.

This is the first non-Disney film to feature songs by the Sherman Brothers.

Van Dyke only accepted the lead role on the condition that he would not have to attempt an English accent.

Director Ken Hughes reportedly hated the finished film.

Dick Van Dyke’s character was named for Caractacus, the last independent ruler of England before the Roman conquest of southern England.

The role of Truly Scrumptious was originally intended for Julie Andrews, but she was unavailable. Dick Van Dyke helped choose Sally Ann Howes because he thought her singing voice was ideal for the part.

The scenes in and around Baron Bomburst’s castle in Vulgaria were shot on location at King Ludwig II’s Castle Neuschwanstein, located at the foot of the Alps on the Bavarian-Austrian border.

The musical number ‘Toot Sweets’ took three weeks to film and involved 38 dancers, 40 singers, 85 musicians and 100 dogs. How would you like to wrangle that?

-luke

It’s Musical Month!

Well, folks, winter is officially over. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the people are sneezing. It’s time to watch some musicals!

I had a hard time picking my favorites. There are so many masterpieces out there, but, as you may know, there are only four weekends in a month. You see my dilemma.

However, I’ve forced myself to pick four of the greatest. They are:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

The Court Jester (1955)

The Music Man (1962)

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

These are some (not all) of my absolute favorites. They’re all fun, hilarious, and light-hearted. And, they’re great movies to watch if you find yourself meandering about your house, suffering from a severe case of spring fever.

Have fun, stay classic, and gesundheit.

-luke

Published in: on April 3, 2010 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment