It's early in the Twentieth Century, and there's trouble, my friends, in River City. Iowa, that is, in this delightful adaptation of Meredith Wilson's long running Broadway musical, `The Music Man,' directed by Morton DaCosta and starring Robert Preston as the fast-talking, fleet-footed traveling salesman, Harold Hill. `Professor Harold Hill,' as he calls himself this time around, is in the business of selling band instruments and uniforms, all with the guarantee that he will teach the youngsters of the parents who fork over the cash for his wares how to play. There's only one problem, and it's the fact that -- as one of his fellow competitors puts it-- `He don't know one note from another!' Alas, can it be the con is on?
When he jumps train in River City to escape the wrath of an angry gathering of his peers, whom he has `Given a black eye' to in the territory, thanks to his dubious business practices, he sets about plying his trade on the good folks of middle America. But right out of the chute, he runs into some problems: The Mayor of River City, George Shinn (Paul Ford) wants his credentials, the lovely young local piano teacher and librarian, Marion (Shirley Jones), has her doubts about him, and he lacks an `angle,' something to convince the local citizenry of the need for a `boys band' to get them out of the trouble they're in-- even if there isn't any until he `creates' it.
One of his problems is solved when he runs into Marcellus Washburn (Buddy Hackett), a former shill of his, who mentions the new billiard table that just arrived in town. And that's all the Professor needs; because now they've got trouble, `With a capital T' that rhymes with P' and that stands for Pool'!' With that, he's up and running and he's got everything timed, right down to the `Last wave of the conductor's hand on the last train out of town.' Yee-gods and great honk! River City, Iowa, is about to have their very own boy's band.
Robert Preston gives the most memorable performance of his career as Hill, the silver-tongued salesman who can palaver past postulated proffered predicaments quicker'n an eggheaded egret's emblematized egression. It's just a matter of charm, style and timing, and Preston imbues Hill with em all, and more. He brings a mesmerizing presence to the screen in this role that is absolutely perfect; Preston IS Harold Hill, and he makes him his own in such a way that it's impossible to visualize anyone else in the role. It certainly gave Preston a chance to demonstrate his amazing versatility, and he really made the most of it, carving out a niche for himself in cinematic history.
The beautiful and talented Shirley Jones is terrific, as well, as `Marion the Librarian,' the young woman with a heart of gold who becomes a formidable opponent for Hill as he tries to charm his way past her suspicions of him. Jones personifies everything that is pure, moral and good, without being prudish, and it makes Marion a truly endearing character. And, like Preston, her performance is so good it's impossible to picture anyone else in the part. She's simply magnificent.
The made-to-order supporting cast includes a very young Ron Howard, unforgettable as Winthrop Paroo, Marion's little brother, Hermione Gingold (Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn), Pert Kelton (Mrs. Paroo), Monique Vermont (Amaryllis), Susan Luckey (Zaneeta), Timmy Everett (Tommy Djilas), Harry Hickox (Charlie) and Mary Wickes (Mrs. Squires). Featuring a number of memorable songs, including `76 Trombones,' `Till There Was You,' `Gary, Indiana' and of course the catchy `Trouble In River City' number, `The Music Man' is an uplifting, totally transporting film that makes the world seem like a pretty good place after all. This is the `Good Old Days' the way we'd like to think they really were, and it's all courtesy of the magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.