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The Timeless and Placeless Appeal of The Music Man


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I've written about this before, but it continually baffles me.  I only come across it for a moment, or have it on as background noise while I do something else.  No matter where I come in on the movie, from the beginning on, it never fails that two-and-some-hours latter, I come to myself watching the closing credits.  I don't know why.  I have no connection with the the mid-west rural America turnabout of the last century of the story.  I grew up urban costal, in the left atrium of the heartland, and my family came here after WW I.  Nonetheless, the movie is unfailingly entertaining.  And it never pales, as many of movies I like better, or which are better can.


Of course, the music can be credited with a large part of its appeal.  It is by turns, rousing, witty, sweet, and moving.  The lyrics are inventive, amusing with the spoken songs; clever, with enough satire to send up the provincialism of small towns; polished, as a reflection of Mr. Hill's technique; simple and direct, when expressing deep-felt aspirations and emotions.  The production numbers are all wonderful, the choreography of the the dancers, chorus, cameras, and editing smooth and energetic.  And the performances are all great, with just that much larger-than-life necessary to make for a good show.


But other movies have that, and wouldn't keep me watching them time after time.  It must be The Music Man deals with something more essential.  There is a surprising amount of cynicism and worldliness in the story, not just by Harold Hill.  The town folk are all ready to expect the worst of human nature.  Not the usual picture of rural America, or the innocent rubes taken advantage of by the scheming con man.  They are taken advantage of, but it's by Hill's manipulation of their weaknesses, fears, and proclivities, not their innocence.  Paradoxically, the fakery Hill needs to practice brings about the good in the movie.  To deflect investigation of his credentials, he turns the feuding school board into an inseparable quartet.  Looking for a natural leader to coalesce the band around, he pulls the young Tommy out of a life of hooliganism, giving him responsibility.  Conning Winthrop Paroo, he breaks the child out of his lonely and unhappy isolation.  And for Marion Paroo, he brings birds, bells, and love.


I have an informal list in my head of my favorite musicals.  They include movies like 42nd Street, the Rogers/Astaire musicals, Funny Face, and others.  The Music Man, however, doesn't automatically come to mind.  I'll have to work to change my thinking.

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