(1962)5Leo CharneyThe Music Man is among the best movie musicals, transforming Meredith Willson's Broadway hit into an energetic slice of Americana. Robert Preston's virtuoso portrayal of con man Harold Hill transfers from the stage (despite the studios' nervousness about casting no-name Preston), and the result is one of the most explosively vital performances in any movie musical. Until the very end, Preston never sugar-coats or softens Hill's rapacious self-seeking, nor does Shirley Jones downplay the stubborn snobbishness of his love interest, Marian Paroo. The portrayal of the River City townfolk is memorably caustic: "You can have your fill of the all the food you bring yourself!" runs only one of the snide remarks in their introductory song, which offers, "Glad to have you with us -- even though we may not ever mention it again." The film's embrace of small-town American life is not confined to its sentimental, sickly-sweet aspects (the movie's hero, after all, is a con man, whom Preston's vigorously charming performance dares us to like), and this dimensionality makes the movie as distinctive dramatically as it is musically. Preston carries the movie, but he receives memorable support from Jones, Ron Howard as her brother Winthrop, Buddy Hackett as his sidekick, and such stalwarts as Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, and Pert Kelton among the River City townspeople. The underrated score includes Till There Was You, later covered by The Beatles and often mistaken for one of their songs. Made at the acme (yet last gasp) of the blockbuster movie musical in the first half of the 1960s, The Music Man can hold its own among such better-known contemporaries as West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), and The Sound of Music (1965).