RADIANCE THAT FLOODS THE SCREEN… AND WARMS THE HEART!
The movie is too good to be true. The real-life von Trapp family in Austria, whose adventures were chronicled by Maria von Trapp in a 1949 best-selling book called ”The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”, did not escape Nazi-invaded Austria as dramatically as in the film (they simply left by train and sailed for America). Maria and Captain von Trapp met already in 1927, not on the eve of Anschluss. And the captain wasn’t cold and rigid, but quite the opposite.
But Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse came up with a good concept for Broadway and after the outstanding contribution of songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, ”The Sound of Music” was a major hit on stage. The film became one of the greatest box-office smashes in history.
A governess for seven children
Salzburg, 1938. Maria (Julie Andrews) is the Mother Abbess’s greatest headache, a young woman who’s too free-spirited for the discipline needed at the abbey. When the retired naval officer Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) needs a governess for his seven children, Maria is sent there. Ever since the death of the captain’s wife, he has been raising the children as if they’re military cadets. Horrified to see them disciplined this way, Maria secretly encourages the children’s creative sides.
Eventually, not even the captain can resist having music back in the house and agrees to let Maria care for the kids in a more open manner. In the meantime, he’s dating Baroness Elsa von Schraeder (Eleanor Parker), but Maria may be too charming to resist…
Opening up the stage-bound original
The film opens with silent, completely enchanting bird’s-eye views of the Alps until the camera finds Maria dancing and singing on a mountaintop. Fans of West Side Story (1961) will recognize this brilliant trick from director Robert Wise; actually, it was screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s idea and Wise initially resisted it because of the similarity… but the sequence is now part of cinema history. Cinematographer Ted McCord certainly lived up to the challenge of the film – opening up the stage-bound original and really taking advantage of the Austrian settings. This is a gorgeously photographed film, but the scenes that were shot on a soundstage are equally stunning, perfectly arranged. So much in this film is first-rate.
The casting is just lovely, with Andrews solidifying her star status after Mary Poppins (1964) as the incorrigible Maria and a whole bunch of irresistible kids as the unruly but cute von Trapp children. Plummer has spent most of his career acting like The Sound of Music was a horrible experience; maybe it was for him at the time, but most of his degrading comments seem like jokes now and he became life-long friends with Andrews. The songs are all classics now; most musicals have a few standout numbers, but this one is packed with them. It’s hard to resist the romance, charm and playfulness, but the film is also moving at times, especially near the end as the von Trapp family performs ”Edelweiss” and the song turns into a chance for regular Austrians to show resistance against the Nazis. Once Anschluss becomes a part of the story the film gets a healthy shot of adrenaline in the form of tension and darkness. Even the film’s detractors have to admit that this is an original way to depict the arrival of Nazism in Europe.
Over the years, The Sound of Music has been called corny and silly. If that’s your attitude, I guess movies and musicals really isn’t your thing. If the cute allure of children singing is enough to make you ignore brilliant casting, songwriting and cinematography, I offer you my deepest condolences.
The Sound of Music 1965-U.S. 174 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay: Ernest Lehman. Book: Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse. Cinematography: Ted McCord. Songs: ”The Sound of Music”, ”Edelweiss”, ”Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, ”Do-Re-Mi”, ”My Favorite Things”, ”Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II). Editing: William Reynolds. Cast: Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Georg von Trapp), Eleanor Parker (Elsa von Schraeder), Peggy Wood, Richard Haydn, Anna Lee.
Trivia: The real-life story was also the basis for the West German film The Trapp Family (1956) and the animated Japanese TV series Story of the Trapp Family (1991).
Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Film Editing, Scoring (Irwin Kostal), Sound. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actress (Andrews).
Last word: “As cynical as I always was about ‘The Sound of Music’, I do respect that it is a bit of relief from all the gunfire and car chases you see these days. It’s sort of wonderfully, old-fashionedly universal. It’s got the bad guys and the Alps; it’s got Julie and sentiment in bucketloads. Our director, dear old Bob Wise, did keep it from falling over the edge into a sea of treacle. Nice man. God, what a gent. There are very few of those around anymore in our business.” (Plummer, Vanity Fair)