I grew up on musicals. Instead of watching “Blues Clues” or “Arthur” like many of my young peers, my parents had me absorbing Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” and “Sound of Music”. My affection for old movie musicals only grew over the years, and my favorite celebrities ranged from Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire to Judy Garland and Anne Miller. While many of the old movie musicals were marketed for a family audience, there are various plotlines that hold some not-so-family-friendly instances.
1. The Music Man (1962)
The first rule to enjoying The Music Man is to pretend the 2003 remake never existed. The second is to overlook Harold Hill’s blatant stalking of Marion Paroo. Not only does Professor Hill follow Marion home in the middle of the night, but he corners Marion in her place of work, kissing her against her will. While these moments are cringey, reflecting in the #MeToo era, The Music Man still upholds its G-rating, inviting families to watch this musical romp together. While kids might be more perceptive to Harold Hill’s treatment of Marion Paroo in today’s era, there are still moments which might pass over their heads. Much of The Music Man’s plot centers around the townspeople’s lack of respect for Marion, who they believe had a sexual relationship with the now deceased owner of the town’s library. These allegations are proven to be false, but many references are made to sexuality in this film. When piano student Amaryllis begins to play for Marion (prefacing “Piano Lesson/If You Don’t Mind My Saying So”) Marion quips—in reference to Amaryllis’s piano playing—“Don’t get faster, dear.” In context to the town’s obsession with Marion’s sexuality, adult audiences can understand it’s not just piano Marion is referring to.
2. Oklahoma! (1955)
In this musical depiction of the settlement of the Wild West, life exists in a binary. Through the musical number “The Farman and the Cowboy”, the citizens of this tiny settlement make it clear you can either be a farmer or a cowboy, not allowing any other male identifier…and totally disregarding the Native American population completely. For a musical centering around the cheery life of the white settlers, this is standard. What is more unusual and might not be so easily grasped is Roger and Hammerstein’s use of repeating musical numbers to convey a more sinister sexual undertone in “The Dream Ballet.” While the story primarily centers around young Laurey Williams and the two men who vie for her heart, Curly McClain and Jud Fry, there are plenty of other supporting characters. One of these characters, Laurey’s best friend, Ado Annie, sings one of the bawdier numbers included in the musical. “I Cain’t Say No” details Ado Annie’s difficultly turning down sexual partners who she is supposed to reject. “I always say “come on, let’s go”/Jist when I orta say nix!,” Ado Annie sings playfully. However, the meaning of the song becomes sinister when Rogers and Hammerstein weave the tune into the Dream Ballet at the end of the second act. Asleep, Laurey dreams of her two suitors, Curly and Jud. In her dream, Jud kills Curly and captures Laurey to be his wife. As “I Cain’t Say No,” is weaved menacingly into the melody, we can infer that Laurey really cannot say no, and is raped by Jud in this parallel dream universe.
One of the most famous musicals of all time, almost every American child has seen The Sound of Music, or at least has hummed along to “Doe Rae Me” at one point of their lives. However, without understanding the historical background of the film, some details may be lost on viewers. While the main plot details governess Maria falling in love with a family of children and their widower father, the backdrop of the story is Nazi occupied Austria. When the Baroness arrives with family friend, Max Detweiler, much of the audience’s attention is riveted to the subplot of the Baroness’s rivalry with Maria to vie for Captain Von Trapp’s affection. With so much attention on romantic relationships—the Captain, the Baroness, Maria, even young Liesel and Ralph—it is peculiar that Max Detweiler is not also roped into the mix. It is a very common trope in movies that the woman who is not “chosen” ends up with the backup suitor, but Max is not even an alternative to the Captain. Instead, he stays single the entire movie. It is not to outrightly say that Max is gay, but coupled with the events taking place in Nazi Germany, his hidden love life does make sense. While we will never be able to confirm Max’s sexuality, we do know that Max perishes while the Von Trapp family lives on. At the end of the concert that the Von Trapp family uses to escape, the camera focuses on Max’s face—a strange choice considering the Von Trapps are the protagonists of the film. As the shot ends, a red filter is placed over Max’s face, inferring a more deadly end that that of the Von Trapp family, particularly if paired with his hypothesized homosexuality.