Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 1962. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Marion Hargrove, in collaboration with Franklin Lacey, based on the musical by Meredith Willson. Cinematography by Robert Burks. Produced by Morton DaCosta. Music by Ray Heindorf. Production Design by Paul Groesse. Costume Design by Dorothy Jeakins. Film Editing by William H. Ziegler. Academy Awards 1962. Golden Globe Awards 1962.
Meredith Willson’s eternally popular musical steeped in cloying Americana has been turned into a giant, thoroughly irritating film experience. Robert Preston is still playing for the third balcony as the titular con artist who goes to small, wholesome towns pretending to be a traveling salesman, convincing people to order band uniforms and instruments that he has no interest in delivering on. Arriving in a lovely Iowa burg, his experience is altered by his love for a gorgeous librarian named Marian (Shirley Jones) which threatens to turn him legit except for the real traveling salesman who is hunting him down to expose his fraud (honestly, they make movies about this sort of thing). A series of tuneless songs with a few well-known hits scattered among them lengthen the torture of a good deal of cardboard performances and contrived jabs at humour. The only sign of life is Jones, who gives real dimension to all her scenes (she can’t even hug her little brother without genuine warm feeling), highlighted by her gorgeous duet with a barbershop quartet that is the film’s best number. Ravishing sets and costumes are a pleasure to look at, but the whole thing has the same heavy, stilted feeling that Warner Bros would bring to their adaptation of My Fair Lady a couple of years later, though with far less charisma from the performers and dialogue. For devoted fans of musicals only.