Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #14 (From TWO ROBERT PRESTON FILMS)

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In previous musicals, male leads were often athletic or having an occupation that made them brave (soldier, sailor, etc). In both of these clips, Preston is neither, yet he commands both audiences through his use of words and gestures. In the Music Man, he preyed on the fears of the townspeople- talking in a preachy manner, using terms and animated gestures to scare the locals into giving him what he wants. In Victor Victoria, he uses gestures and language to command the audience’s attention. 

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In the later musicals, male performances present more complex characters, including the character of Toddy by Robert Preston. Compared to characters like Frank Sinatra in Pal Joey, Howard Keel in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Marlon Brandon in Guys and Dolls, Preston in Victor/Victoria is complex. He is a non stereotypical gay character, with a relatively well developed character story. In earlier films, like Pal Joey, Frank Sinatra's character is rather one dimensional. He is an unapologetic womanizer, who has two women fighting over him, despite his noncommittal attitude to both. But he remains the protagonist who everyone else revolves around. Not so in later musicals, where the men are more dimensional, flawed but almost redeemable. 

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As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?

The characters are more developed, and this is communicated to the audience through what appears to be a new and developing acting style in musicals. The character seems to have more personality in his/her own right rather than playing off an ensemble of other actors or strictly communicating through song/dance styles. 

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I love the way Robert Preston "talks" his songs. It gives them a feeling of being more than just song lyrics, that instead he's directly talking to his audience and including them in the song. He does this in both clips.

In the Music Man clip, Harold Hill shows how easy it is to persuade people to think a specific way and jump on the band wagon. It's sad to realize that this is a typical human foible that is so easily exploited, and Harold does all he can to exploit it for profit. He thinks he's going to clean up in this hick town. Robert Preston plays this part to the hilt. It's easy to believe that he really thinks and feels this way. Unlike most of the main male leads in earlier musicals, Robert seems to be primarily an actor, rather than a dancer or singer first and an actor second.

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1.     As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?

These two clips seem to focus more on the singing as a means of establishing/developing Preston’s characters, and of advancing the plot in The Music Man, since the song about pool in integral in “selling” the town on buying instruments to keep their children out of “trouble in River City.”  True, the songs in earlier musicals often did the same thing as well; however, some songs in earlier musicals—as noted earlier in the video discussions—also served as show pieces to highlight a given performer or to reflect the given folklore of the film’s era (e.g. some of the songs in Hallelujah!).  These two numbers also seemed to focus more on the songs and the lyrics themselves, with very few dance moves at all.  This approach allows the audience to focus more on the character and how the song and scene work together to advance the story.

2.     What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?

With all due respect to Gene Kelly and his fans, whom I certainly do not mean to offend, Robert Preston shows more diversity as an actor with his respective roles in these two films.  This is a diversity that I have not seen with Gene Kelly in his films that I have seen, among them Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris.  He is certainly very charming, a bit of a womanizer with a heart of gold in both, and he is an amazing singer and dancer.  As Dr. Ament noted, Kelly did bring a masculine athleticism to his dances.  However, and again with all due respect, I did not see much diversity between these two roles.  It seems that the emphasis was more on his musical talents instead of his character?  I welcome feedback from anyone who might be reading my posts, so please, correct me if I’m wrong. On the other hand, Preston does show more diversity, first as a salesman shyster, and then second as a gay man in Victor/Victoria.  His presence fills the screen, and he actually plays both roles with a sense of masculinity, noticeable even toward the end of the second clip where he ducks a punch after insulting some of the people who are present.  These scenes are more about establishing Preston’s characters, and his diversity when viewed side by side.

3.     Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work?

I have not seen enough films in Preston’s canon to answer this question with any sense of knowledge or confidence at this time.  However, I will say that from these two clips Preston seemed to thoroughly study his roles, immersing himself in them and becoming the characters he played, so much so that he was able to play a non-offensive, non-stereotypical gay man.

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1. In the Music Man he is not overtly a mans man like we see in cowboy or war films. He’s a con man to get what he wants in a sneaky way that is obvious to the audience yet not to the other actors. In Victor/Victoria he is a gay man yet given the time that the movie was made it isn’t overtly obvious. You can see it through some of his actions but more from the statements and actions of the couple he speaks to once his has finished singing. 

2. In the Music Man he easily pulls the crowd in to what his line. That when you can see the con man come out. As another person said he plays them like an orchestra. In both movies he is sure of himself but yet doesn’t over play it to others. 

3. Unfortunately I haven’t seen him in too many movies that weren’t musicals.  I have see Reap The Wild Wind and How The West Was Won  and to in my opinion he doesn’t stand out as a strong player as he does in these two musicals. In the musicals he takes command of the parts and runs away with them. 

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It has been interesting to observe the evolution of the maasculine roles in movie musicals.  In the early years many of the films' focus seemed to be more towards the female leads or at least on a equal basis with the males. The roles often reflected relationships that didnt depend on a dominant male figure and often in the end, the resolution of the male and female characters' relationship varied i.e.  found love and both continued in the busisness, got married and assume more tradional roles.  I am thinking of Broadway Melody, The Goldiggers of 1933, Born to Dance for example.  Fred Astaire was a popular male lead, suave and elegant, Mickey Rooney, youthful, small were not examples of the stereotypical masculine male.   In the late 40s and then inot the 50s, Gene Kelly is the popular male lead and he balances athleticism, a harder persona with elegance.  Howard Keel also emerges in more masculine type performances.  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers really epitomizes that transition as does his roles in Annie Get Your Gun and Calamity.  In those movies the females almost become a caricature in comparison to the male lead.

These two clips are an excellent contrast in the masculine versus femine aspects of the male performer.  In the Music Man Robert Preston is more of the alpha male, he breezes into town and uses his saleman talents to manulpulate the townspeople into believing they needed something they hadn't considered before.  He is dominant, assertive, tall etc.  He is interested in women and uses his charms to win over a cautious Shirly Jones in the role of the librarian, what is more traditional than that?   In Victor/Victoria he plays a gay man and I expect it took allot of courage for him to play that role in the 80s given the societal norms at the time.  His performance is a testament to his skill as an actor. Julie Andrews is great but I think he steals the show.  Comic timing, playing against type and creating a depth and empathy for this character was most successful.

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1.  In male performances from the past decades the man tends to take control of the scene right away.  Robert Preston takes a more subtle approach.  He insinuates himself into the scene instead of immediately taking control.

2.  I noticed that Robert Preston is careful with his body language in the scene from the "Music Man" to seem more masculine even with his gestures.  In the scene from "Victor/Victoria", he uses broader, more effeminate gestures to keep with his character.  Even his singing has more nuanced inflections as a gay man would.

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Looking back especially to the 40's and 50's, men portrayed strong masculinity, wanting to be in charge or to take charge. They were men's men so to speak-the suave, debonair, lady's man like Fred Astaire and the rough and tumble character of Nelson Eddy in the 30's, then the strong, viral types like Gene Kelly and James Cagney in the 40's to Howard Keel, Gene Kelly and Gordon McRae in the 50's. In the clips, Robert Preston brings a more sensitive side to the "role " of man. Not rough and tumble, but mindful of others. Not focused on the ladies, but focused on living life in a more gentle way, allowing others to take charge.

He doesn't have the physique of a muscle man, but uses hand gestures and facial expressions to get his point across. His character plants doubt and fear in the minds of the town's people by his words, not by what he does. In the same way, he plants the image of a "gay man" in the minds of the people in Victor/Victoria. He shows a gentleness and softer side of man. He doesn't "belt out" a song or muscle through a dance number

I haven't seen his movies, but searched and found a couple of scenes he was in. He seems very genuine in whatever role he plays. It would seem he studies the character in depth, then askes himself, if he was that person, how would he act or respond to whatever situation he encountered, being mindful of who the other characters are and, perhaps, what they are thinking or feeling.

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1. In The Music Man, I have always found Robert Preston to be kinda creepy.  He's too old for Marian and it makes me nuts - not the Hollywood didn't have (still does) a penchant for pairing older men with much younger women.  Given that, I can appreciate the ease with which Preston delivers this difficult song and essentially causes the 'massteria" he claims that pool will cause.   It's also a more realistic performance with none of the sort of lightweight men (like Dick Powell, who I find just too fey for my taste) of the 20s and 30s or the sighing romantic albeit more masculine ideal of the 40s and 50s (like Gene Kelly who i love but some of his "I'm in love" faces are too silly).  He is more like Howard Keel without quite so much pomposity.

2. He directly addresses his audience and plays it to his end goal.  In The Music Man he stirs up their fears by expertly reading the crowd and finding things to make them worry about.  In Victor/Victoria he says just the right things to anger the people who came in during his song insulting him as they did and ultimately provokes a fight -which is what he probably wanted.

3.  I really have not seen anything else with him.

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In musicals, Robert Preston is a natural. Musicality comes naturally. He has conversational musicality nailed down pat. He glides through his performances with ease- he fits them like a hand in glove.

I had read that Cary Grant was actually offered the role of Prof. Harold Hill for "The Music Man", and he declined it because he said no one can play that part but Robert Preston. I would agree.

Having seen Preston in "Union Pacific" 1939 and "How the West Was Won" 1962, his performances are unmemorable to be quite honest. Unlike Sinatra, who made some pretty good dramas after musicals, I think the opposite was true for Preston. Musicals were really his niche.

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1. As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?

In the early decades of movie musicals the male leads were generally very masculine and were either pursuing or being pursued by their female counterparts. As the decades moved on, the male leads became less one-dimensional. Their various relationships with female characters began to reflect the changing sexual dynamics of the times. Oft times, the characters were less romantic and masculine. Their insecurities were allowed to show through. Unlike the earlier musical leads who exuded confidence and self-assuredness. (See, e.g., Chevalier in The Love Parade.) In The Music Man, Harold Hill starts out as the extremely self-confident male who pursues the librarian for nefarious purposes, to perpetuate his con. However, as the movie progresses he finds himself ensnared in an unforeseeable conplication: He falls in love with the librarian. He admits he finally "got my foot caught in the door." He finds himself losing confidence and ultimately needs her encouragement to face the music (pun intended!). He has to marshal up the courage to admit to Winthrop that "I always believe there's gonna be a band, kid." Earlier leads in musicals did not have to confront such personal crises.

2. What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?

Preston has always be a dynamic actor. Lots of hand and body action incorporated into his performances. Early on he was cast in a lot of westerns and other action films at Paramount Pictures, often playing the bad or flawed character. While he could emote with his eyes and voice, he invariably was demonstrable with hand movement often grabbing on to his fellow performers. He acted with his entire body, throwing his whole self into the part.

In The Music Man his character physically commandeers the townspeople to get their attention and gather them in the town square to hook them with his Trouble number. During the song, he points, he raises his arms like a holy roller, all done to tell his story and capture the audience's attention. He goes for their hearts and minds using not just his voice but every part of his body as well.

As Toddy in Victor/Victoria Preston again seeks and keeps the audience's attention but with much subtler physical movements. The movements reflect the song being sung, designed to entertain a mixed audience. A diametrically opposed audience to the kind Harold Hill was playing to! The hand movements and use of the handkerchief color the story being told in Gay Paree, that being the second, less obvious interpretation of the long standing phrase used to describe the effusive night life of the City of Lights. Preston also moves through the night club audience to embellish his performance. Again, this is in contrast to his Harold Hill persona. In The Music Man he is always working on the hard sell, whereas in Victor/Victoria he is engaging in a more soft sell approach.

3. Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work?

Preston's earliest work in film was in to a great extent in westerns, often playing a second lead and a less than honorable character. I first recall seeing him on television in Union Pacific (1939), co-starring with Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea. What stood out was his ability to go toe to toe with Stanwyck, a brilliant actress who normally monopolized an audience's attention. Preston's character, an amoral businessman who attempts to sabotage the construction of the intercontinental railroad, both physically and emotionally dominated the film (IMHO). Perhaps typecast as an impulsive, hot-headed second lead after his brilliant performance in Union Pacific, Preston again found himself portraying western characters who come to a bad end in Northwest Mounted Police (1940) and Whispering Smith (1948), playing across from Gary Cooper in the former and Alan Ladd in the latter.

In a 1984 interview, while filming Finnegan, Begin Again with Mary Tyler Moore, Preston noted of his Paramount years: "I played the lead in all the B-pictures and the villain in all the epics."

Looking back on my recollection of these films, I still remember Preston's characters as much--if not more so--than the lead characters. This is a tribute to his enormous raw talent, honed further by his involvement in the method group. Finding out in this course that Preston was a method actor was a pleasant but not surprising revelation, considering how always immersed himself, body and soul, into each role he played. It does go far to explain why after all these years his performances still stand out in my memory.

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These clips are not loading very well for me today, and my only experience of Preston has been his Music Man performance.  But, it seems in these two performances we have one instance of the character trying to hide his real intentions (Music Man) and the other in which he is not hiding them (Victor Victoria).

I am making it a point to view some of his other performances and look forward to seeing Victor Victoria.

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Not much alpha-male dominance but a refined alpha male.  Thinking about the words snd how they are going to affect the people around.  And is performance as Toddy, a gay male, is not the stereo-typical flamboyant queen that is often the case in many films.


He's a gentleman always.  Suave, sophisticated in his dealings either as a salesman or "queen."
 

Back in the 80s he was in a sci-fi film THE LAST STRAIGHTER as Centauri, an alien agent in search of a star fighter via the video game he invented.  His performance, as I remember, was wonderful.  Comedic and fast talking- sort of a Harold Hill from space.  He truly was a magnificent actor and brought a sophistication to whatever he was in.

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1. Regarding male representation in musicals, Robert Preston's two performances are indicative of a shift away from the perfect Alpha male hero to a more imperfect, nuanced, and perhaps a trifle more sensitive portrayal. Harold Hill is a great example of this. While he's got the swagger and assertiveness of the typical Alpha male from previous decades, he's not your typical impossibly perfect guy: His profession is concerned with fleecing an unsuspecting public. And later on, after he has fallen for Marian, we get to see his softer, more gentle side.

2. The fact that Preston was an actor before he became a singer is evident in all of his performances. He so completely inhabits every character he plays that no matter how unlikeable or unsympathetic they are, you can't help but root for them. Preston also has a ton of personal charm and charisma as well, whuch certainly doesn't hurt, either!

3. I have not seen any non-musical Robert Preston films, but I want to! I don't think he considered his musical roles to be any less worthwhile than his straight dramatic roles, so I imagine he brought to them the same depth and enthusiasm as shown in "The Music Man" (1962) or "Victor/Victoria" (1981). It always amazes me how he supposedly had never sung before acting in "The Music Man" on Broadway, as he had a really fine (if non-traditional) Baritone, as shown in "The Music Man" (1962), "Mame" 1974), and as Mack Sennett in "Mack and Mabel" on Broadway. He never forgot (as even some more famous 'singers' do) that a vocal performance is also an acting performance, and made every note ring emotionally true to his character, which only makes him more engaging as a singer and an actor.

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Speaking of Robert Preston, my favorite role for him was the non-musical HBO made for TV movie (1985) Finnegan Begin Again with Mary Tyler Moore. I've been trying for years to find a way to watch this, but, evidently, it's only on VCR, and I don't have a player any longer. Does anybody know why this terrific film is unavailable?

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In the course of the history of musicals, we see a wide variety of portrayals of masculinity. Within this context we have talked about Alpha and Beta males, but it seems to me that the very act of dancing and singing in musicals goes against the grain of a lot of mainstream thinking about acceptable masculinity. When one of my daughters was in The Nutcracker, we were so proud of her, but some of the boys in the production tried to hide the fact that they were in the show even though they loved what they were doing. Two of them were viciously beaten up in the playground of their parochial school when the word got out that they were in the show. Even in our simpatico online community, I see Astaire labeled as a beta because he was graceful and a gentleman. (And I wish everyone who sees him as one dimensional would take  a look at his work in the Girl Hunt Ballet in The Band Wagon for another aspect of his persona.)

So when I look at the Preston clips, it strikes me that a lot of his body language stays the same as a straight and a gay man. Toddy moves more slowly and he is in a confined space rather than moving through an outdoor town center as does Harold Hill. Yet, the use of his hands and upper body stays remarkably similar (allowing for the silk scarf as Toddy) and his voice stays deep along with his amazing articulation. His gayness or straightness is constructed as much from the reaction shots of his audience as from anything he does. He is a skilled illusionist in both films--turning the children into musicians in The Music Man and Julie Andrews into a man pretending to be a woman in Victor/Victoria.  Both performances are wonderful and Victor/Victoria is one of my favorite movies.

I haven't seen Preston in any non-musicals that I remember the names of, but I am pretty sure he did some very standard cowboy movies that I remember from the days when we were allowed to have cap guns and spent a lot of time shooting imaginary bad guys. 

I thought that today's modules were excellent! 

 

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1.  It seems to me that in these two clips, Robert Preston is neither the alpha male nor the beta male, but a little bit of both.  He sings "You've Got Trouble" with a flair that is reminiscent of Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry.  His arm gestures are big and strong, and occasionally a little limper that adds a touch of vulnerability.  In "Gay Paree" the gestures are much limper without being overdone.  During his song, he is passive toward the hecklers who try to disrupt his number, but after the song he confronts them boldly using humor as his choice of weapon.

2.  In both clips, he seems relaxed, even as he incites a town to rebel against a pool table.  He's a salesman all right, but it is the soft sell.  That same relaxed, soft quality is all over "Gay Paree."  

3.  The Music Man was my first introduction to Robert Preston, and I saw it so many times that it was firmly in my mind before I saw him in any of his non-musical films.  I can only imagine what it might have been like to see someone known for non-musical roles in films and stage (he originated the role of Henry II in The Lion in Winter) taking on singing and dancing as he did in The Music Man.  I can only liken it to Rex Harrison, who developed his way of talk-singing his songs for My Fair Lady.  Meredith Willson was very interested in rhythmic talking and used it repeatedly in The Music Man.  (Was the opening number on the train the first use of rap on Broadway?)  And you can see how Preston alternates between singing and rhythmic talking in "You've Got Trouble."  He begins the song with talking, then leads into some singing, making a nice transition from speech to rhythmic talking to song.

No matter how many non-musical films and plays he has been in, I will always think of him as a song and dance man.  I was fortunate to have seen him in two of his later musicals:  I Do! I Do! and Mack and Mabel.  In both, but especially in Mack and Mabel, his strong dramatic flair combined with his equally strong musical talents to create a fully-realized character who was as unforgettable as Harold Hill. 

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As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?

Most noticeable to me is the the change toward the male figure as a genuine and affecting storyteller, and not just someone who carries a song, dance, romantic plot, or represents masculinity in a very superficially "alpha" and emotionally inaccessible way.

In the first clip, we have a musical number featuring a con man, Hill, trying to get everyone in River City to believe his story about the moral dangers of playing pool in their new billiard hall so that he can swindle them out of their money with the creation of a marching band for boys as a more wholesome and appropriate experience. On the face of it, this is pretty ridiculous. But Preston's delivery of this fast-talking and bamboozling tune is affecting because we believe that he believes what he is saying and are moved to want to rectify this situation just like the folks in River City - who come away from this scene mostly convinced of his concern for their welfare. He is not just singing a fast song or performing some choreography that captures our attention and interests us in the character of Hill. There is more depth and authenticity to this performance, although it is a less-than-honest one, than we have seen previously with males in somewhat silly and highly "musical" roles.

In the second clip, we have a performance that we have not yet come across in the course which is a straight actor depicting a gay man. This is no easy task, and could be fairly easy to caricature, but once again there is an emotional depth and connection to the character that makes Preston come across as a genuine person. This is also a rather silly number with Toddy singing about "gay Paris" in a room full of men and men in drag, and as a straight male this could be played in quite an over-the-top way with the usual tropes present. Instead, we see a masculine figure with some feminine qualities delivering a comedic song and playfully digging at some of the patrons and others in his community. This again represents the transition to very honest storytelling from a male character.

What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?

Preston is clearly a very technically sturdy actor, and quite method in his ability to connect with the emotional truth of the part he is playing. He is able to find that balance between "just being entertaining" and delivering a genuine performance that encourages a deeper connection between audience and character - something that is still valued by audiences today. 

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These two clips highligh differences in the male characters in musicals.  Gone is the dapper Fred Astaire.  While the character of Toddy has a debonair quality, he is much more human than Fred's top hat and tails characters.  Neither Harold Hill or Toddy are the macho/alpha male we see in Gene Kelly's movies or in Frank Sinatra's Pal Joey, played by Gene Kelly on Broadway.   Hill and Toddy can manipulate the people around them, but underneath there is a real human, not the celuloid stereotypes we have seen before.  

My favorite Robert Preston film is Victor/Victoria, but I also enjoyed him in How the West Was Won.  His character was a solid male, but with a tenderness not often seen in a Western.  While his interest in Debbie Reynolds is not reciprocated, he is still there, understanding and protective, much as he is with Julie Andrews' Victoria.

 

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1) Robert Preston , in The Music Man, uses his persuasive baritone voice to back his arguments on the subject of gentlemanly persuits (billiards vs pool, horse and cart racing vs horse racing-at a track with gambling). He uses his beautiful, deep voice again in Victor/Victoria but uses more refined and persuasive facial expression subtly to convey his character's (and the majority of his audience in the nightclub scene's) sexual persuasion. He goes on to conquer his detractors with humor and sharp, fast, returns and quickly is able to out wit them in the escalation of physical violence (he has a way of moving away gracefully from the barroom brawl that begins to erupt). I think that shows his true skill. 

2) Preston has such and expressive face. He uses a quick glance upwards, a slight movement of the hand, the handkerchief to express so much more of what is going on in the scene. He is able to be gracious, romantic, funny, charming and an agile foe all at once. 

3) I can't recall any non musicals I have seen Robert Preston in.

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As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable?
Early musicals portrayed very manly men who fit certain criteria.  Charming, handsome, confident, above women in s their manner of thinking. There was a formality of dress and mannerisms as well. Victor/Victoria heads away from societal norms and allows for a more gender fluid male portrayal. 

What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips?

Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work?

He appears to be an actor which handle many different rolls with great ease. I have not seen any of his movies but Victor/Victoria has been on my list for some time. Just from the couple of clips i get a great sense of comfort in his rolls. That there is an extreme amount of time he spends becoming the character instead of just playing a part. 

 

 

 

 

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The male lead does not need to be a strong alpha male.  Harold Hill slides into town, looks around at what's going on, makes an issue of something innocent and finds a solution in his boys' band.  Toddy is the openly gay man in an era that this is not yet accepted let alone portrayed or discussed.  Strong men but not aggressive.  Men not afraid to eventually be who they really are.

Robert Preston took the scripts and scores and did his homework.  He made it a point to make the role his own.  This is true of his straight roles as well as the musicals.   

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I love what y’all are saying about the precision of Preston’s movements (in both clips) and his skill at working a crowd.  What I want to add involves the play between tradition and change in the two films.

In The Music Man, Harold Hill is appealing to tradition (“Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock, and the Golden Rule”; he also tries to win over the mayor and other authority figures), but if he succeeds in conning them, the whole town will be upended.  (Just imagine: when they discover they’ve been duped, the bickering and finger-pointing of the school board will spread all over town.)  But it turns out that “tradition” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Anyone who defies conventions is ostracized and gossiped about.  Marion is treated with scorn and suspicion because she is an independent, intellectual woman.  (Plus she had the audacity, as an unmarried woman, to befriend a man--a man who also “didn’t have a friend in this town.”)  So the happy ending for The Music Man is to allow the town to unify behind its “small town values,” but also to change those values--to allow a space for people like Marion.  (Plus those wild teenagers--especially the low-class kid with the Eastern European name.  Great honk!)

In the clip from Victor/Victoria, Toddy (Preston) reminds us that the past has not always been as “traditional” as we think.  Gay Paris has always been “gay,” in all senses of the word--and so, by implication, has everywhere else (at least in private, on the fringes, in the closet).  The change the film is advocating is for visibility--for public acceptance, acknowledgement, even joy.  Not to mention more flexible borders between masculinity and femininity.  Still, for all its breaking of boundaries, the film takes care not to disrupt too many expectations or ruffle too many feathers.  The primary love story is heterosexual, and the "man" who performs as a woman (just a little too convincingly) turns out to be a woman after all.  And most importantly, the leading man (played by James Garner) does not, in the end, have to upend his own more rigid sense of masculine identity by entering a relationship with another man.

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As we look at male performances in musicals, it seems like over time they've become more natural, less stylized. In later years, when the performer shows emotion, it's a more comfortable emotion, one that you as a viewer can understand and with which you can identify - in fact, the emotions show a complex human being, rather than a 'good' guy or a 'bad guy. I think back to the Jimmy Stewart part in Rose Marie, for example; it's clear that he's just a kid gone wrong, while Jeanette and Nelson are clearly the heroine and hero, respectively. Not much nuance there. Comparing those roles to the roles of Lesley Ann Warren or Robert Preston, Julie Andrews and  James Garner seems ludicrous, which says something about how roles overall in musicals have changed and matured over time.

Although you can categorize what Robert's role is in each of these clips - in the Music Man he's a faith healer/flim flam man, and in Victor/Victoria he's an aging homosexual - there is much more of that valuable commodity, nuance, in both roles. In the Music Man, during the clip, we see Henry Hill run through a patter that we can tell has been been very successful in the past. He can obviously ad lib quickly, work with a crowd, and loves what he's doing. In Victor/Victoria, we see that Toddy is a mature stage performer - not a star, and he's certainly not trying to be one, but a he still can sing and dance - going through the same patter he's been doing for years, but he's just a little bitter. He's not singing because he loves it, but he's still up there singing. In both of these parts, Preston plays a man who is comfortable with who he is. 

I loved Robert Preston in Beau Geste; found him to be a trifle wooden in his Cecil B. DeMille movies (Union Pacific, North West Mounted Police, Reap the Wild Wind, the last being the best - but my impression is that DeMille directed spectacles, not actors, and didn't give the actors any rope to rehearse or refine their performances). He was excellent in Whispering Smith and fine, but didn't show much depth, in How the West Was Won. From what I've seen, I think his best work was in Victor/Victoria. I wish I had seen him in Lion in Winter on stage.

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