Posted by: thealienist | February 12, 2010

More Movie Romance: “The Music Man”

While Disney’s Up showed the process of a young boy overcoming the otherness of girls and discovering romance, The Music Man follows two adults as they develop a mature capacity for love.

The Immature Adult Male

First, we meet Gregory (a.k.a. “Professor Harold Hill).  He is a con-man who possesses the quick tongue (as seen in the song, Ya Got Trouble), charming personality, and invulnerability to fear often found in antisocial personalities.  He uses people around him for his own purposes and without concern for their well-being.  He has arrived in River City, Iowa with the plan to defraud the citizenry by selling the band instruments and organizing a band.  In truth, he plans to sell the instruments and uniforms and skip town withe the money.  The main obstacle to her plan is the music teacher, who could expose him as a fraud.  He thinks that seducing her would likely keep her quiet until his plan is complete.  His ideal woman is described in his song, The Sadder But Wiser Girl For Me.

The Immature Adult Female

The piano teacher in River City is a young woman named Marian Paroo.  She has a reputation among the women of River City as an immoral woman since she was seen keeping the company of an older man and since she is the librarian and loans out books that the woman do not approve of.  However, in reality, Marian is a dreamer.  She has little romantic experience with men, which her mother amusingly attributes to not being able to “find a man alive who could measure up to the combination of Saint Patrick, Paul Bunyan, and Noah Webster [she’d] concocted for [her]self from [her] Irish imagination, [her] Iowa stubbornness, and [her] library full of books.”  Her ideal man is revealed in her song, Being In Love.  In fact, she has been approached by men who try to seduce her, but she rejects them immediately and repeatedly.

The Predator and His Prey

At their first meeting, “Professor Hill” is roundly rejected.  Marian tells him that she is “not impressed with [his] credentials, which [she] has not seen, nor with [his] manners, which [she] has.”  Later, the women of the town lead him to believe that Marian is a sexually loose woman (in the song, Pick-a-Little).  Over time, however, both “Professor Hill” and Marian repeatedly demonstrate that they are not what the other is looking for.  “Professor Hill” shows that he is not at all an intellectual when he says that Columbus discovered the egg.  Marian inflexibly plays “hard to get” but not in any even remotely flirty, coquettish way.

However, beneath the surface, we find that the ground is shifting slightly.  In the song and dance number, Marian, the Librarian, Professor Hill professes his (immature) love for Marian, and we see Marian become less inhibited.  She smiles, dances, stares dreamily into Professor Hill’s eyes, and “lets her hair down.”  Still, when she catches herself, she quickly resumes her earlier attitude toward Professor Hill and becomes angry.  Her ambivalence toward Professor Hill is shown in the fact that she researches his background and plans to expose him, but hides the evidence to allow him to stay in River City and continue his fraud.  One get the feeling that her ambivalence is resolved when The Wells-Fargo Wagon arrives and she sees the transformation in her socially withdrawn and very unhappy little brother.

Evidence of Professor Hill’s growing maturity is longer in coming.  He continues to pursue Marian as if she is “the sadder but wiser girl” for most of the movie.  It is not until the love song, ‘Til There Was You, that Professor Hill realizes that he has genuine feelings for Marian.  He discovers this as he learns that Marian has known of his lies throughout most of the movie, and offers to give him the only copy of the proof of his lies.  In short, he realizes that he has been seen for who he really is and is still loved.  His ambivalence about his feeling for Marian is shown in his continued resolve to complete his fraud and leave town (and Marian) with the money.  His ambivalence is resolved only after he is about to be arrested and he refuses to flee.

The Realization of Mature Love

The climax of the movie occurs when Marian and Professor Hill realize that they love one another, not because the other is their ideal (which they definitely are not), but because each has found value in the other as they are.  Musically, this discovery is represented in the duet, Goodnight My Someone/76 Trombones, when we realize that Marian’s wish (Goodnight My Someone) and Professor Hill’s dream (76 Trombones) are close variations of the same melody.  The duet starts with each singing their expected parts but eventually each takes up the other’s lines.  In this we see that Marian has found value in and internalized some of Professor Hill’s adventurous and free-spirited style.  Professor Hill, on the other hand, discovered in himself the desire to be known and loved.  He has found another for whom it is unthinkable to treat as a pawn for his own desires.  Neither one is simply playing with love any longer — they have discovered real love.

A Male Psychiatrist’s View of Romance in The Music Man

The movie starts with a common (if stereotypical) characterization of what men and women want.  Men want sex without commitment.  Women will use the promise of sex to get a commitment.  Men value the sexual conquest over simple romance.  Women value the romance over simple sexual activity.  Men want a woman “with the gift of lechery” (The Joy of Sex).  Women want a man of character and achievement.  In short, men want women who are more like men sexually, and women want men who are more like women emotionally.

The turning point in the movie occurs when we see that Marian can become more like Professor Hill while not compromising those characteristics that she values in herself.  Marian can become more free-spirited, adventurous, and even wild without losing the sweetness, purity, and refinement that she finds valuable.  On the other hand, Professor Hill can become more like Marian without sacrificing his valuable masculine qualities.  He can value others for more than what they can do for him.  He can allow himself to be seen without the mask he wears to fool and manipulate others.  He can stand and face the consequences of his actions instead of pursuing only self-interest.   And in each character’s growth, they find that they become more than who they were, and they recognize value in others that, though they do not measure up to the ideals they previously held, are precious and desireable.  In short, both Marian’s and Professor Hill’s ideals became more realistic and mature, and each found pleasure in living up to the desires of the other.


Do not take this movie or this interpretation of it too literally.  While I think that there are good lessons to be learned from The Music Man, it is important to learn the right lessons.  The characters in the movie are broadly drawn — almost in caricature.  Professor Hill has many of the characteristics of an antisocial personality.  Do not expect that it only takes the love of a good woman to change such a man.  Many women have tried to save a criminal with their love only to be hurt in ways that were unfortunately predictable.

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