The Sound of Music (1965)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in Song & Dance | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Ridiculous sing-a-longs, a cheesy plot, and Nazis. You gotta love musicals.

How can we forget The Sound of Music? It’s the type of film that seeps into your unconscious whether you like it or not. Anyone could likely belt out some lines to My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, and, of course, the title song. The incomparable Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the songs for this musical production based on the true story of the Von Trapp Singers, which quickly became a smash hit on Broadway with Mary Martin in the lead. When a grandiose version came to the big screen a few years later, this time with Julie Andrews at the helm, it became the highest grossing film ever made and earned 10 Oscar nominations.

The film starts on a cinematic high note as a helicopter famously floats the camera around Maria (Andrews) as she gracefully swirls about on a lush Austrian mountaintop and beautifully delivers the line, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” The story tracks Maria as she takes a leave of absence as a nun to become a babysitter for the Von Trapp children. Under her guidance, the family soon becomes an elite musical attraction in Europe, but must flee Nazi Austria as World War II approaches.

After West Side Story, director sound3Robert Wise poisingly broke the Hollywood studio mold by shooting the film on site in Salzburg, Austria to capture its gorgeous terrain, historic sites, and kids wearing drapes. The first act is light and mostly comprises the play’s most popular musical numbers, which is probably why it’s preferred to the second act. Other than the aforementioned songs, the first half includes a group of prissy nuns complaining in Maria, a suitcase-swinging and tweed-clad Andrews skipping to I Have Confidence, Plummer loosening up and joining his children for Edelweiss, an amusing puppet show about The Lonely Goatherd, and the children formally heading off to bed in So Long Farewell.

The second act takes a turn toward the dramatic and is mostly composed of its best scenes. One that specifically comes to mind is a scene in which Maria confesses her love for Captain Von Trapp to Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) and the resulting song Climb Every Mountain. Another, an obvious choice, is the climactic performance at Salzburg Festival in which the family wins top prize as Nazis await to capture Captain Von Trapp for duty. But just like the film itself, this important scene is a classic piece of escapism.

Though the almost three-hour film drags at times, it’s astonishingly entertaining due to the lead performances by Christopher Plummer, who plays a stern patriarch to seven children, and Andrews, who plays the nun-turned-baroness who brings the family together. And despite its unbelievability and cheesiness (show me a musical that isn’t), Wise’s direction thankfully keeps a rhythm in near-impossible circumstances (a romantic/dramatic/comedic story fused with cutesy sing-along numbers).

The Sound of Music is one of those films that has taken extensive criticism despite its popular appeal (it is a musical after all) and Pauline Kael famously blasted it in a column titled “The Sound of Money,” which reportedly led to her dismissal from McCall’s. But in my mind it’s in an elite group of musicals that are still enjoyable half a century later and may become timeless.

The Lonely Goatherd – The Sound Of Music, Sung by Julie Andrews as Wonderful Original Maria from Isaac Sarayiah on Vimeo.

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