After a period of rapidly declining popularity, the musical film experienced a sort of rebirth in American cinema in the ’60s, with West Side Story taking home the Best Picture Oscar for 1961 and The Sound of Music becoming a smash roadshow hit in 1965, spawning many musicals in its wake that were not near the box office success it was.
Right in the middle of that period is another American musical classic, 1962’s The Music Man, with Robert Preston reprising his Tony Award-winning role as Harold Hill, con man extraordinaire, and Shirley Jones starring as potential foil Marian Paroo. The nostalgia factor is high for this film, which certainly has its dated moments and is saturated in a gee-schucks wholesomeness that becomes a little unbearable at points, but it’s quite a successful expression of the genre and Preston’s charisma is undeniable.
The film features Hill coming to small town River City, Iowa, ready to swindle the simple-minded Midwest folks out of their money by pretending to put together a boys’ band — just the trick at keeping impressionable youth out of trouble. With the help of friend and former con artist Marcellus Washburn (Buddy Hackett), Hill plans to collect as much money as possible before skipping town, but falls under the spell of Marian, whose younger brother Winthrop (the ridiculously lisping Ron Howard) is part of the band.
If there’s one clear area where the film overstays its welcome, it’s in Meredith Wilson’s score, reproduced almost entirely from the stage version with only one cut song and a new one to replace it. The film’s bloat — felt acutely in the second act as the film nears the 2 ½ hour mark — could have been avoided with some of the less memorable efforts excised, but Wilson has plenty of strong numbers, including the humorous “Iowa Stubborn” and “Ya Got Trouble” and the bombastic “76 Trombones.”
While the unswervingly traditional nature of The Music Man prevents it from reaching the top tier of American musicals, it still stands as an excellent adaptation of a Broadway musical and has more than enough charm to make it worth revisiting from time to time.
The Blu-ray Disc
The Music Man is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. It presents quite a significant improvement over the DVD release — astonishingly so in most scenes. Fine detail is remarkable, colors are consistent and vibrant, and the image is sharp throughout while retaining a nice film grain present in the print. This is an excellent indication of what Blu-ray can do for the Technicolor films of the era, and fans of the film will see it like they never have before at home.
The DTS-HD 5.1 mix isn’t the most dynamic around, but it has a much stronger presence than the DVD’s Dolby Digital mix, with some nice weighty bass during the musical numbers and clear dialogue and singing standing out crisply.
The DVD’s extras are simply ported over to the Blu-ray and remain in standard definition. They include an introduction to the film from Shirley Jones, a 30-minute making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer. One might’ve wished for a new retrospective, but The Music Man isn’t a film that feels like it needs a copious amount of supplemental material, and it's not missed here.
The Bottom Line
While the film may not ignite as much of a passionate response as some of its musical film contemporaries, it’s an undeniable Americana classic and looks fantastic on Blu-ray.