by: Brian Jones
Looking for the musical that beat WEST SIDE STORY for the Tony Award? You’ve found it here, in Meredith Willson’s THE MUSIC MAN — and its appearance on DVD, in widescreen format and with all the bells and whistles, is long overdue. Pop the disc in, and you’ll immediately be taken to the “Right Here In River City” documentary (you’ll have to press the MENU button on your DVD controls to get to the main menu so you can actually view the movie — why the disc goes immediately to the documentary is rather odd). Hosted by Shirley Jones, who still looks great, the top-notch, too-short documentary is crammed with lots of good stories and bits of trivia, in the words of several of Those Who Were There. You’ll find out, for instance, which segments were actually filmed first, how amazed Susan Luckey was at Robert Preston’s ability to lip-synch “Trouble” during filming, and why Shirley Jones wore so many frills and flowers on her dress in the scene at the footbridge.
As for the film itself — the print is beautiful, and as someone who had only experienced the film in pan-and-scan format, it is a delight to finally see entire dance sequences without the cropping. And you’ll finally be able to see all four members of The Buffalo Bills barber shop quartet (the poor fellow singing bass could never be seen in TV-formatted versions).
There are other, smaller moments that have always cried our for the letterbox format, and if you watch both versions closely, you’ll notice the real advantages in seeing the entire scene as it was shot. For example, one particularly disorienting scene in pan-and-scan format is the “Pick A Little, Talk A Little/Goodnight, Ladies” sequence, when Professor Hill is speaking with Mrs. Shinn and the town ladies about Old Miser Madison, and dismebodied voices drift in from off camera. At one point, Mrs. Shinn says, “Miser,” and an off-camera voice says, “Madison,” causing Mrs. Shinn to grimace. In pan-and-scan, it looks like a mistake; in widescreen format, the speaker is finally visible to Mrs. Shinn’s right, bringing the scene together in a logical fashion. Sounds like a trivial moment, I know, but that scene in pan-and-scan has grated me for years!
The DVD also contains a theatrical trailer, but it’s not the trailer for the original 1962 release, but for the re-release a number of years later. It’s still an interesting curiosity, featuring a reworked version of the “76 Trombones” sequence with Preston signing new lyrics about the film.
If there’s any shortcoming in the disc, it lies in the sound quality. You’ll have to crank the volume up a bit to hear everything properly, but beware — the moment you hit the MENU button, you’ll be blasted by and ear-splitting version of “76 Trombones” on the menu screen. Ouch. Hit MUTE right before you touch MENU. You’ll thank me later.
It’s a worn out cliche, but they really DON’T make musicals like this any more. And if your only experience with THE MUSIC MAN has been with the pan-and-scan format, do yourself a favor and pick up either the DVD or the letterboxed VHS format. You really WILL realize what you’ve been missing.