Today, in lieu of any Halloween festivities, I watched another contender in 1962's Best Picture race...
The Music Man
(based on the Broadway musical by Meredith Willson)
Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, Pert Kelton, Ron Howard
1 win, for Best Score (Adaptation)
Popular on Broadway, Meredith Willson's The Music Man centres on a travelling salesman who calls himself Professor Harold Hill (Preston). Arriving in River City, Iowa, Hill attempts to con the townsfolk into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys marching band that he promises to lead. Only thing is: he has absolutely no musical ability whatsoever (although, he does appear to be able to sing and dance). With the help of an old pal (Hackett), Hill evades the scrutiny of the Mayor (Ford), but for the plan to really work, he has to keep the town's only musician, piano instructor Marian Paroo (Jones), from exposing him. He decides seducing her will be his best bet.
'Extravagant' is the first word that comes to mind when watching The Music Man. Brightly-coloured sets and costumes, super widescreen cinematography, familiar toe-tapping tunes (Seventy-Six Trombones and Ya Got Trouble, for example), larger-than-life characters. It's one extravagant musical number after another. The result is that River City and its inhabitants appear to have a polished veneer. Yet this feeling of make-believe - common to Broadway musical adaptations - is incredibly amiable, thanks to a delightfully humorous tone.
Meredith Willson's music is imaginative and fun with many tracks distinguished by their brisk rhythm and almost mechanical melody. Lyrically, the songs are clever and interesting, sometimes downright strange. I mean, who names a song "Shipoopi"? (I have to shamefully admit that I was not even aware of that song until I heard Peter Griffin's rendition of it.)
Clearly, it was an enormous task converting this stage success to film, and director Morton DaCosta uses some innovative camera techniques for certain sequences, including several extended takes. However, there are other times when it seems that he doesn't make the most of his medium. Despite the energetic choreography, certain shots feel unusually static because of the simplified camera placement. It's almost as if the actors are performing like they would on stage, all huddled together facing the audience.
Nonetheless, the cast all embody their characters perfectly. Robert Preston is smooth and charming as the swindler who grows a conscience. The Partridge Family's matriarch Shirley Jones is sweet as Hill's love interest. The supporting cast, including Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold and Pert Kelton are all delectably comic. And little Ronny Howard (as he was known prior to his Richie Cunningham days) is adorably impressive, complete with outrageous lisp.