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Four Movies Set in Iowa

Updated on June 30, 2011

1) The Music Man (1962)

Starring: Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and Buddy Hackett

Based on the Broadway musical by Mason City native Meredith Willson, The Music Man won the Academy Award for Best Musical Score and was nominated for Best Picture, along with four other awards. Although the musical features in its "Iowa Stubborn" the quintessential ode to... well, Iowa stubbornness, Willson (then living in California) referred to it as "an Iowan's attempt to pay tribute to his home state."

Although both Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant were asked to star as the traveling salesman and wily swindler "Professor" Harold Hill, both turned down the role, with Grant insisting that "nobody could do that role as well as Bob Preston," who had originated the part on Broadway. The role immediately established Preston as an A list star.

Although the movie was remade for TV by Disney in 2003 with Matthew Broderick in the lead role, the new version received dismal reviews, with the reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle writing that it "never matches the 1962 film with its classic performance by the late Robert Preston. It was Preston . . . who galvanized The Music Man with his vibrant, masculine authority . . . Broderick, by comparison, is cute, wide-eyed, a bit squishy and about as dynamic and intimidating as Winnie the Pooh."

76 Trombones Finale


2) Field of Dreams (1989)

Starring: Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster

Producing such oft-repeated and now cliched quotations as "If you build it, he will come" and "'Is this heaven?' 'No, it's Iowa,'" The Field of Dreams was shot largely at a private residence and adjoining field in Dubuque County, near Dyersville, Iowa. The site is maintained by owner Don Lansing, who charges no admission, generating proceeds solely from the gift shop. Today, more than twenty years after the release of the film, which was nominated for three Academy Awards and dubbed the sixth best American fantasy movie by the American film institute in June 2008, the Field of Dreams still receives around 65,000 visitors annually. In 2009, the Lansings put the land up for sale for an asking price of $5.4 million, but no one has yet taken them up on that price. Visits to the field continue at no charge to the fans, who frequently play catch, run the bases, or take photographs walking into or emerging from the corn.



3) What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, John C. Reilly

Although set in the small town of Endora, Iowa, What's Eating Gilbert Grape was filmed mostly in the cities of Manor, Elgin, and Lockhart, Texas. The film follows the struggle of young Gilbert Grape to care for his family in the wake of tragedy. Following his father's suicide, his mother fell into a depression, becoming morbidly obese, and has therefore been unable to care for her children alone. Therefore, Gilbert must care for his mentally handicapped brother Arnie, who has a peculiar habit of attempting to climb the town water tower if left alone too long.

The film received positive reviews, particularly for Leonardo DiCaprio's role as Arnie, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. According to Film Review, DiCaprio "spent a few days in a home for mentally retarded teens" in preparation for the role. "We just talked and I watched their mannerisms," DiCaprio says. "People have these expectations that mentally retarded children are really crazy, but it's not so. It's refreshing to see them because everything's so new to them."



4) The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Starring: Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood

Based on Robert James Waller's bestselling 1992 novel of the same name, The Bridges of Madison County is set in Madison County, Iowa, with much of the filming taking place in the towns of Winterset and Adel. The film tells the story of an Italian housewife who falls in love with a photographer passing through town to shoot the area's covered bridges for The National Geographic. Deeply affected by the four days they spend together, she chronicles the story in her diary, which is read by her shocked children after her death. Although no sequel to the movie has been produced, Waller released an epilogue to the book, titled A Thousand Country Roads, in 2002.

The film was critically acclaimed, and Meryl Streep received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress in her role as housewife Francesca Johnson. There are six real bridges of Madison County, all of which were built in the 1870s and 80s and may still be visited today. They are Roseman Bridge (the most prominently featured in the film), Cedar Bridge, Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, Hogback Bridge, Holliwell Bridge, and Imes Bridge. With the exception of Imes Bridge, built by Eli Cox, all of the bridges were built by Benton Jones.



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