Mon Oncle (1958)

The charming, pre-modernized streets of France.

In the list of most beautiful comedies, Mon Oncle may very well steal first place. This is simply one of the most imaginative, feel-good films I have ever seen. It is not only a feast of ingenious physical comedy, but it is also a statement against modernization and its overwhelming subsequent effects.

Now, usually, when I watch a comedy, I do not expect an abstract philosophical observation. If I do expect something of that sort, I usually enter the viewing a bit wary. But this satire is brilliantly executed; the statement is wrapped up in good-hearted humor, sublime music, and fantastic set pieces (all of which I’ll explain in detail below).

Jacques Tati, the film’s writer, director, producer, and starring actor, is often regarded as France’s comedy master. An obvious precursor to Rowan Atkinson’s memorable Mr. Bean character, Jacques Tati created the unforgettable Monsieur Hulot: a bumbling, lovable, trench coat-wearing fellow who causes accidental catastrophe as he tries to mold to the ever-changing modern world. After his first feature film, Jour de Fete in 1949 (in which Tati played Francois, not Hulot), the Monsieur Hulot series started in 1953 with Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, and continued with Mon Oncle, PlayTime (1967), and Trafic (1971).

In Mon Oncle, the statement about modernization is instantly evident. The credits appear on signs at a construction site. The sounds of the engines of various construction vehicles are almost unbearably loud and obnoxious–then comes the antithesis. The film switches immediately from the loud, raw atmosphere of the construction site to an quaint, unmolested French neighborhood. The contrast is beautiful and sad; it forces one to realize that, although modernization has led to several inventions that are beneficial to mankind, too much modernist reconstruction can lead to the loss of meaning for existence.

If this was the sole purpose of the movie, it would perhaps be quite a drag. But this is not the case. This statement is not presented in the stark, dramatic form one would expect, but rather in a superbly choreographed comedy of errors. Tati, as Monsieur Hulot, is endearing and hilarious, conducting himself with silent whimsy and subtle naivete. His smile is sweet and sad, especially near the end of the film, and his awkward way of walking is absurd yet irreplaceable. No one can recreate Hulot. Jacques Tati, to put it simply, IS Monsieur Hulot. Inseperable and one.

Now, for the sets. Mon Oncle boasts some of the most brilliant, fantastic set pieces ever made for a film. The only sets I can think of that would rival the Arpel family’s ultra-modern abode are the buildings (made expressly for the film) in Tati’s PlayTime (1967) and the apartment complex in Rear Window (1954). As if this movie marvel wasn’t enough, Hulot’s own apartment building is one of the most beautiful, unbelievable film sets ever made. These are phenomena which mere words cannot effectively describe; they must be seen.

To hear the score of Mon Oncle is to have your heart warmed. The gently plinking piano is soon accompanied by a quintessentially French accordion. The visual partners to this piece are shots of mischievous canines rummaging their way through trashcans (the crashing of the can’s lid is synchronized with the music, and acts as a brief drum solo), and eventually moving from the lovely, unadorned streets of Old France to the coldly modern neighborhoods, where we meet the Arpel family and their neoteric residence.

On a side note…  For those who prefer newer comedy, I will say that the sight gags in Mon Oncle rival those in, say, Airplane (1980) and Hot Shots! (1991). They’re not as blatant, no, but (in my opinion) just as funny.

If you want to feel good, watch this movie. I will warn you, this film does not belong to the “Instant Gratification” class of comedy. The jokes are subtle; the humor is in the whole. That said, it is possibly the most heartwarming movie (to me) that I have ever seen. It helps us to remember that “old-fashioned” is not a dirty word.

Summary

The Arpel family is the epitome of ultra-modern. Their house is a fully automated, avant-garde, highly polished prison–that is, to their son, Gerard. He does not enjoy living in this glimmering steel cage; thus, he spends most of his time with his uncle, Monsieur Hulot, who leads a simpler existence than Gerard’s parents. However, Gerard’s parents believe the naive Hulot to be a bad influence on young Gerard. Thus, they attempt to make Hulot one of their own. Monsieur Arpel gets Hulot a job at his plastic factory, and Madame Arpel hosts a garden party (one of the funniest scenes in film history) in attempts to mold the bumbling Hulot into a person of order and class. After many failed attempts, the Arpels seem to have given up. But Monsieur Hulot may have a more positive effect on them than they’d like to think.

Information

Directed by Jacques Tati;

Written by Jacques Tati (written by), Jacques Lagrange (artistic collaboration), Jean L’Hôte (artistic collaboration);

Starring Jacques Tati as Monsieur Hulot, Alain Bécourt as Gerard Arpel, Jean-Pierre Zola as Charles Arpel, Adrienne Servantie as Madame Arpel, and Betty Schneider as Betty, Landlord’s Daughter;

Produced by Jacques Tati (producer), Fred Orain (producer, uncredited), Alain Térouanne (associate producer), Louis Dolivet (co-producer);

Music by Alain Romans, Franck Barcellini, Norbert Glanzberg (uncredited).

-luke

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A Night at the Opera (1935)

One of the most brilliant comic scenes of film history. Not for the claustrophobic.

“And now, on with the opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor!”

First, let me say that I am terribly sorry for taking so long to post another review. Studies interfere. I don’t want you to feel that I’ve let you down, though I know I have. I don’t expect your forgiveness. Well, I kinda do, and I expect you to keep reading. Thanks!

***

Ah, the opera. Never has the supercilious establishment been lampooned with such comic genius. One of the best comedies of the ’30s, A Night at the Opera is a 92-minute guffaw. Ingenious farce, thy name is Marx! That rhymed. Kinda.

If you’ve never seen a Marx Brothers movie, this film is a perfect place to start. I, being the novice that I am, instead started with The Big Store (an excuse to have Tony Martin croon in a movie, basically). This left a temporarily unpleasant taste in my mouth regarding the Brothers. However, watching this film was like brushing my teeth. In a metaphorical sense. It made me realize that everyone was telling the truth when they called the Brothers one of the greatest comedy teams ever, and when they said this film was one of their best.

Although the film as a whole is a riot, there are several notable bits, including the contract (“You can’t fool me… There ain’t no Sanity Clause!”), the stateroom scene (pictured above), and, of course, an opportunity for Chico (pronounced “Chick-o”) to play piano and Harpo to play, well, harp. The musical scenes with Chico and Harpo provide the calm in the middle of the storm, the order and beauty among the chaos and anarchy of their zany humor. Harpo can nearly bring tears to one’s eyes one second and the next second have one rolling on the floor with hysterical laughter. That’s the charm of the Marx Brothers.

Surprisingly, this film steers mostly clear of dated humor. I don’t necessarily mind dated humor, because I understand most of it after spending so much time absorbing the entertainment of that time. But except for a reference to the Dionne Quintuplets, and the mention of *gasp* phonograph records, there’s not very much at all that would confuse a modern viewer. This is just one of the reasons it’s lasted so long.

Something else that made the movie so endlessly enjoyable for me was Groucho’s shtick. Even in less funny films such as The Big Store and Go West, Groucho was one of the quickest-witted comedians in the history of movies. In A Night at the Opera, he utters several quick lines that scarcely slipped by the Hays Code (which had begun to be enforced in 1934). He had an uncanny knack for a beautifully timed punchline or sarcastic comment. For instance, while filming A Night at the Opera, director Sam Wood was exasperated after trying to get Groucho to read a line “just right”. To express his displeasure, he lamented, “I guess you just can’t make an actor out of clay.” Groucho flung back, “Nor a director out of Wood.”

Harpo Marx was the antithesis to his brother Groucho; he was funny without words, without witty repartee. He was one of the kings of physical comedy, saying all he wished to say with his over-the-top actions and his wonderful facial expressions. Chico was also consistently funny; his hilariously exaggerated Italian accent is music to my ears.

This film is, in my opinion, the best Marx Brothers film and the best ’30s comedy to start with. The humor is rapid-fire, the story is sweet, the film as a whole is exceedingly satisfying. Spend A Night at the Opera; you’ll get your money’s worth.

Summary

Impresario Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman) convinces millionairess Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) to hire a tenor named Rudolfo Lassparri (Walter King) for his New York opera company. Lassparri is a truly unlikable character, what with beating his dresser, Tomasso (Harpo Marx), and trying to enchant soprano Rosa (Kitty Carlisle) who loves the handsome underdog, Ricardo (Allan Jones). After Tomasso, and Tomasso’s old friend Fiorello (Chico Marx) learn that Rosa is bound for America without Ricardo, the two devise a plan. They take Ricardo, and the three of them stow away in Driftwood’s trunk. In America, everyone is set to perform Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore–except Lassparri. He doesn’t want to perform if Rosa won’t accept his advances. The Marx Brothers then cause chaos after the show has begun, and the only way it can be saved is if Ricardo will take Lassparri’s place.

Information

Directed by Sam Wood;

Written by James Kevin McGuinness (from a story by), George S. Kaufman (screenplay), Morrie Ryskind (screenplay), Buster Keaton (uncredited);

Starring Groucho Marx as Otis B. Driftwood, Chico Marx as Fiorello, Harpo Marx as Tomasso, Allan Jones as Ricardo, Kitty Carlisle as Rosa, Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Claypool, Sig Ruman as Herman Gottlieb, and Walter King as Rudolfo Lassparri;

Produced by Irving Thalberg (executive producer, uncredited);

Music by Herbert Stothart (music score by), Ruggero Leoncavallo (“Pagliacci”), and Giuseppe Verdi (“Il Trovatore”).

Facts

Harpo did most of his own stunts.

A Night at the Opera is the Brothers’ first film with MGM.

It is also their first movie without other brother Zeppo Marx.

In 2007, A Night at the Opera was named by the American Film Institute as the 85th Greatest American Film of All Time.

Kitty Carlisle originally refused to accept the part when she learned her voice would not be used in the film. She won the argument, and “Alone” (the song she sings in the film) later became her signature song.

Executive producer Irving Thalberg was notorious for calling people to meetings and then leaving them waiting for hours. One day, during pre-production, an instant of just this sort happened to the Marx Brothers. They sat in the secretary’s office for several hours, before finally deciding to blockade Thalberg’s door with as much furniture as they could get their hands on. He never delayed a meeting with the Brothers again. However, he would often interrupt their meetings to meet with someone else. One time, after having done this, Thalberg returned to his office to find the Marx Brothers in his office, sitting around the fireplace completely naked, roasting potatoes on sticks. Thalberg sat down, had a potato, and never interrupted another meeting with the Marx Brothers.

-luke

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

The willing vagabond.

“There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that’s all some people have?”

Recently, I’ve found myself unwittingly watching ’50s movies. All. The. Time. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with ’50s cinema; some of my all-time favorite films were made during that glorious decade. However, I chose to explore the true “Golden Age” of Hollywood, and found that my ’40s binge was more rewarding than I could’ve hoped.

During this spree, I came across some of the finest films ever made and added several to my already lengthy favorites list. However, perhaps the greatest of all the 1940s films I watched was Preston Sturges’ masterful Sullivan’s Travels. I think the reason behind its obscurity nowadays is that it is somewhat overshadowed by films such as Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, How Green Was My Valley, and Suspicion, all of which were also released in ’41. Still, for any fan of comedy, of superb acting and direction, or of stories that will leave you feeling happier, Sullivan’s Travels is a must-see.

I sat down to watch this film with, I must admit, fairly low expectations. Once it started, however, I staggered back in awe. Seriously, this is a great film.

(Dear reader, I realize that I say that quite a bit. So far, I’ve only reviewed my favorite films, and I’ve said roughly the same thing about each one: “This is a good movie!” Don’t worry; at some point, I will review some movies I hate. Won’t that be fun?)

Joel McCrea (one of my favorite actors), who has exhibited his enormous talent in nearly 100 films (spanning from the ’20s to the ’70s!), shows his comic adeptness AND his dramatic abilities in Sullivan’s Travels. He is an instantly likable fellow, and does not have too little or too much emotion. I first became cognizant of his skill when I watched Hitchcock’s early spy thriller, Foreign Correspondent (1940), in which he gives a (surprise!) great performance. And I’m not the only one who likes him; he has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Veronica Lake… *wolf whistle* I mean, what can I say about her that you can’t figure out for yourself? She’s gorgeous! (And, apparently, rather short. She measured 4′ 11 1/2″, whilst Joel McCrea was a “towering” 6′ 3″. It’s been said that, in some scenes, Lake had to be placed atop a box so their heads could be seen in the same shot.) I expected her to be aloof and seemingly unattainable, but in this film she was actually quite vulnerable, sincere, and, of course, unbelievably beautiful. Her presence is yet another compliment to an already fantastic film.

And I can’t sanely review this film without saying something about its writer/director, Preston Sturges. Sturges was the undisputed king of screwball comedy during the ’30s and ’40s (giving us films such as The Lady Eve, Miracle at Morgan’s Creek, The Great McGinty, and Hail the Conquering Hero, whose sly banter and clever storylines constantly challenged the Puritanical Hays Code). He was also THE FIRST prominent screenwriter to direct his own script.

One reason this satire of Hollywood is SO wonderful is the sincerity with which the story is told. I don’t mean it’s sappy. But it’s not just a continuous laugh-fest or a box-o’-Kleenex movie. It’s a brilliant, unpredictable mixture of both. For a comedy, it’s very moving; for a drama, it’s hilarious. I guarantee you’ll be satisfied, or your money back.

But wait, there’s more!

Synopsis

Tired of making fluffy, forgettable comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (McCrea) wants to put all his creative effort into a serious, socially responsible drama called “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” His producers point out that Sullivan knows absolutely nothing about poverty or suffering. Thus, Sullivan decides to put himself in a vagabond’s shoes (literally). However, his experiment hardly goes as planned, and he soon comes across a downtrodden aspiring actress, who longs to join him on his journey. And when the experiment seems to be nearly done, a series of events places Sullivan in a tighter spot than he had ever imagined.

Information

Directed by Preston Sturges;

Written by Preston Sturges;

Starring Joel McCrea as John L. Sullivan and Veronica Lake as The Girl (with a Sturges regular, William Demarest, as Mr. Jones);

Produced by Paul Jones (associate producer), Buddy G. DeSylva (executive producer, uncredited), and Preston Sturges (producer, uncredited);

Costumes by Edith Head;

Music by Charles Bradshaw and Leo Shuken.

Facts

Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen borrowed the title of John L. Sullivan’s fictional project for their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The author of the fake book, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, was an amalgamation of the names of Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and John Steinbeck.

Preston Sturges supposedly got the idea for the movie from stories of John Garfield living the life of a hobo, riding freight trains and hitchhiking his way cross-country, for a short period in the 1930s.

Veronica Lake was pregnant during filming.

NAACP Secretary Walter White wrote a letter to Preston Sturges congratulating him for his “dignified and decent treatment of Negroes in this [the church] scene.”

Preston Sturges had originally intended to use a clip from a Charles Chaplin film for the church sequence, but Chaplin wouldn’t give permission. In an earlier scene, Joel McCrea does parody the Little Tramp character. The cartoon eventually used was Walt Disney’s Playful Pluto (1934).

-luke

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

That poor suit...

“Dignity. Always dignity.”

Well, it’s time for my long-long-long-overdue review of the 1952 musical masterpiece, Singin’ in the Rain.

This film is one of my favorites. It is so memorable. This is a film that looks like it was just as fun to make as it is to watch. It seems that Gene Kelly’s notorious perfectionism paid off, as he truly did create a near-perfect film.

I think this film was extremely ahead of its time. In whole, it’s a smart parody of the film industry, something which hadn’t really been attempted before (with some exceptions). It satirizes, of course, the industry’s colossal transition from silent to sound, but it also pokes fun at the big-budget musicals of the 40s and 50s (despite being one itself). Nowhere is the latter parody more evident than in the elaborate, irrelevant (and very long) Gotta Dance! number. It’s a brilliantly choreographed dance scene, with some of the most vivid colors ever captured on film. And entirely useless. In this way, it’s an exact replica of many films of its time.

The satire is very obvious, but there are some who don’t understand it. I believe this is the reason many people don’t like the film. They don’t understand that it does NOT, in any way, take itself seriously. It’s goofy on purpose.

That’s not to say, however, that no effort went into the making of this movie. From the facts I’ve heard about this film’s production, I’d say that it was probably quite a piece of work. Debbie Reynolds herself quipped that making this movie and surviving childbirth were the two hardest things she’s ever had to do.

Both Reynolds and Donald O’Connor were admittedly nervous–even frightened–by Gene Kelly’s tyrannical direction. O’Connor said that during the first few weeks of shooting he was terrified of making a mistake and being yelled at by Kelly.

Debbie Reynolds also turned in a good amount of effort. Being only 19(!) at the time of filming, she lived with her parents and commuted to the set. She had to wake up near 4:00 A.M. and ride three different buses to the studio; sometimes, to avoid all that trouble, she would simply sleep on the set.

Of course, you’ve heard the stupendous, epic stories of the troubles the crew went through to bring you that iconic title number. If you haven’t, take a seat, and let me tell you a story.

‘Twas a dark and stormy afternoon in Culver City, California… Well, not really. You see, studio technicians had to cover two city blocks with tarp to give the illusion of nighttime. Then, they equipped the set with overhead sprays. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that there was supposedly a drought in Culver City the day the sequence was shot.

As you can see, I’m talking too much. And, I’m sure it’s also evident by now that a lot of work went into this movie. Fortunately, their hard work and troubles paid off. Although the film cost a total of $2,540,800 (astronomical for 1952), $157,000 of which went to Walter Plunkett’s costumes alone, the musical masterpiece returned a $7,700,000 profit upon its initial release. At this news, MGM forgave and forgot about the film’s budget being overshot by $665,000, and the studio quickly became cognizant of their intelligent investment.

Summary

In 1927, the year of the world’s first “talkie”, famed silent actors Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are everyone’s favorite silent screen pair. The shrewish Lamont, however, believes their romance is true offscreen as well. Aided by his carefree friend and piano accompanist, Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), Lockwood tries nearly in vain to dodge her amorous advances. Things take a chaotic turn with the release of The Jazz Singer, which has the public screaming for talkies. In addition, Don falls for Kathy Selden (Reynolds), a chorus girl and aspiring actress, who is seemingly the first woman to resist his suavity. With the wild popularity of sound pictures still on the rise, it’s decided that the new Lockwood/Lamont picture will be a talkie. However, Lina’s incredibly screechy voice (which, as one reviewer put it, mere words cannot describe) is obviously a problem. In a stroke of genius, Kathy is brought in to secretly dub Lina’s speaking and singing voice. Simultaneously, of course, Kathy and Don fall very much in love. Thus, Don must make a decision: keep up appearances and thereby keep an audience, or reveal the real star of the show?

Information

Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly;

Written by Arthur Freed (song by which the story was suggested), Nacio Herb Brown (song by which the story was suggested), Betty Comden (story and screenplay), and Adolph Green (story and screenplay);

Starring Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden, Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown, Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont, and Millard Mitchell as R.F. Simpson (with cameos by Rita Moreno and Cyd Charisse);

Produced by Arthur Freed (producer), and Roger Edens (associate producer);

Music by Lennie Hayton.

Facts

If I had written this three weeks ago (like I was supposed to), you would’ve been able to see my good friend, Brittany Wright, in the role of Kathy Selden in her high school’s production of Singin’ in the Rain.

Gene Kelly insulted Reynolds by saying she couldn’t dance. Fred Astaire, who was hanging around the studio, allegedly found her crying and helped her with her dancing.

Working days sometimes stretched to 19 hours.

While in the film it’s almost assumed that Kathy and Don are around the same age, this was not at all true in reality. Debbie Reynolds was 19 years old, while Gene Kelly was 39.

The original negative of the film was destroyed in a fire.

The role of Lina Lamont was originally intended for Judy Holliday. However, that idea was vetoed after Holliday hit it big in Born Yesterday (1950). Somewhat ironically, the part eventually went to Jean Hagen, who was Holliday’s understudy in the Broadway version of Born Yesterday.

Believe it or not, only two songs (“Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh”) were written especially for the film. The writers of the latter song, Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, admitted that they nearly stole the tune from Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown”, from the Gene Kelly comedy, The Pirate (1948).

Speaking of “Make ‘Em Laugh”… Gene Kelly asked O’Connor to resurrect a trick he used as a young dancer: running up a wall and completing a somersault. This silly, inane number was so physically taxing that O’Connor, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, went to bed (or was hospitalized, depending on the source) for nearly a week after its completion, suffering from exhaustion and severe carpet burns. Infuriatingly, the initial footage was destroyed in an accident. So, after a brief rest, O’Connor (being the epitome of “true performer”) did the very difficult number all over again.

The rain in the title number was a mixture of water and milk (to help it show better on camera). Tragically, it caused Kelly’s wool suit to shrink.

While the film makes a central point of the idea that Kathy’s voice is dubbed over Lina Lamont’s, what is not told is that, ironically, in some of these songs – notably “Would You” and “You Are My Lucky Star” – Debbie Reynolds is actually dubbed by Betty Noyes. However, Reynolds’ own singing voice can be heard on the outtake footage of “Lucky Star” as performed next to the giant billboard of Gene Kelly.

When performing the title number, Gene Kelly had a 103-degree fever. Dancing in the rain probably didn’t help that.

-luke

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