I have been watching all the movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture. The next on my list was the 1965 winner, The Sound of Music, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. This was actually the third time I've seen the movie, and I watched the 40th anniversary restored version.
The Sound of Music is a classic movie musical based on the true story of the Von Trapps, an unconventional family in Austria on the cusp of World War II. The film contains some of the best-known musical moments in movie history and deserves its reputation as a timeless classic.
The other competitors that year were Darling, Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools and A Thousand Clowns.
The movie begins with sweeping vistas of the Austrian countryside and then the camera swoops in to Maria, the spirited nun postulant, singing and dancing on top of a hill. Incidentally, that was the last scene shot on location, though it's the first one in the movie. The film was shot both on location in Salzburg, Austria, and on Hollywood sound stages (primarily for the interiors).
Maria (Julie Andrews) is not fitting in at the convent, so she gets sent to serve as a nanny for the Von Trapp family, which consists of the widower, Captain Von Trapp (played by Christopher Plummer), and seven children. As you might imagine, this is no easy task. But Maria soon charms the children into behaving for her, teaching them something about music, and winning over their hearts, as well as that of their stoic father.
In the scene where the children are singing "Edelweiss" and their father joins them, connecting with them for the first time, the actors who played the children were genuinely moved. Plummer, like his counterpart, was not terribly comfortable with children. When he sang with them, the children got a first sense that "He really likes us." Particularly in the case of some of the younger children, the emotions seen on the screen are real.
Another interesting story from the shooting: during the song "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" in the Gazebo, Charmian Carr as Liesl slipped while leaping across a bench and fell through a pane of glass. Her ankle was hurt, and she finished the scene with a bandage wrapped around her leg. The restored version of the film, however, erases the bandage. Incidentally, Carr was actually 21 when she made the movie, just six years younger than Andrews.
Of course, by the time we've reached what would typically be a happy ending, the movie is only about halfway through. The second half deals with the more serious, weighty subject of the growing threat of World War II and German occupation. The Von Trapp family must figure out a way to escape the consequences. Many people have seen this movie countless times, but in case some reading this review have not, I won't reveal how they do so.
What can I say about The Sound of Music that hasn't been said already? There's a reason this movie is replayed so often. The terrific music score, the exceptional performances, the beautiful locations, the entertaining dialogue. For that, there are many people to thank. The idea actually came, in part, from actress Mary Martin, who was set to be in a play written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Originally, the play was supposed to use songs that had been sung by the real Von Trapps, but Mary asked Rodgers and Hammerstein to write her an original song. They were in the middle of working on something else, but after they finished it, they took up the project. They ended up writing, not just one song, but an entire score.
Mary Martin originated the role on the stage. She tried to get Christopher Plummer to play Captain Von Trapp, but it was determined he was too young to play opposite Mary Martin, who was 16 years older than him. Plummer did, of course, play the role in the film.
Julie Andrews seemed destined to play this role. When she was passed over for My Fair Lady, a role she'd originated on stage, she happily took the opportunity to star in The Sound of Music. This turned out to be a very good thing for her.
In a testament to the craftsmanship of this movie, it is often referred to in popular culture. Most recently, this fantastic gonzo performance of "Do Re Me" at a train station in Antwerp. Parodies of scenes from the music have also appeared in such shows as The Simpsons and Family Guy, among many others. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend attending the singalong Sound of Music, which is a lot of fun.
Why is this film so beloved? The Sound of Music does what so many have tried to do and few actually manage to do. That's to create a film that is both joyous and touching. It's hard not to love the scenes of Maria singing with the children, hard not to fear for the Von Trapps during the Nazi occupation scenes.
That's the wonderful thing about Rodgers and Hammerstein. They know how to blend lightness and depth, to access every emotion through the magic of music.
Rating (5 out of 5): *****
Contrasts make for a glorious movie.