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Perspective

A capital ‘T’ awaits the showman

We have a holiday tradition at our house: At least one evening whenever we’re all together, we watch a movie from a small set of classics we love.

There’s “His Gal Friday,” the great 1940 comedy-drama-romance with Cary Grant as a newspaper editor and Rosalind Russell as his star reporter. (It’s not hard to figure why that’s on the list.) There’s “Harvey,” from 1950, starring James Stewart and an invisible six-foot-tall rabbit. From the late-1990s, we take “In & Out,” in which Kevin Kline, an Indiana schoolteacher, figures out at the altar (spoiler alert) that he’s gay.

There’s only one musical on our annual watchlist: “The Music Man,” the 1962 film version of the iconic Broadway show set in the imaginary River City, Iowa, a half-century earlier. Robert Preston is the charming con man, Professor Harold Hill, who comes to town with the promise of creating a boys’ band — a scam aimed at separating naive Midwesterners from their money for non-existent band instruments and uniforms before Hill moves on to his next marks. His plan founders when he falls in love with the librarian, Marian, and decides to stay.

The show’s happy ending is only possible, though, because a great marching band magically emerges, prompting the stubborn Iowans to eagerly fall in step behind those 76 trombones and the “rows and rows of finest virtuosos.” It’s a plot device from Greek theater known as a deus ex machina, in which an implausible force saves a character from his surely less happy fate. The professor triumphantly struts off camera at the head of the band.

My daughter was still a child when she asked, as the credits rolled after one of our viewings some years ago, “Is he going to stay there?” Good question, kid: Hill’s...

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