A good Best Picture winner, a lack of boredom, and wonderful music: These are a few of my favorite things
The Sound of Music is directed and produced by Robert Wise, and is based on the 1959 stage musical of the same name with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The film stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, and it went on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Right now, here in early March of 2018, has shaped up to be the perfect time for me to review 1965's The Sound of Music, this being a month that I have dedicated to reviewing a series of musical films, and the fact that the 90th Academy Awards are right around the corner, so why in the world would I not review the 1965 Best Picture winner, The Sound of Music? The film is easily one of the best musicals to win the most prestigious Oscar, and that would seem like a highly unlikely scenario, coming off the heels of 1964's My Fair Lady, which is also way up there with the best Best Picture-winning musicals. I had seen the film for the first time some years back, and I was involved in a stage version of the show back in high school, so despite the fact that it had been years since I gave the stage show or the film any kind of meaningful attention, many of the songs were still relatively fresh in my mind, as was the story.
Based on the 1949 memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria von Trapp, The Sound of Music nearly set the record for most tickets sold for a film, falling just behind Gone with the Wind. It also was the film responsible for saving 20th Century Fox after the financial disaster that was 1963's Cleopatra, going on to be one of the highest grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation. Even fifty plus years later, the film's sweetness has not waned in the slightest, remaining as joyfully watchable today as it surely was back in 1965. Yes, the film is nearly three hours long - a lengthy running time being the norm for 1960's musicals - but it's so upbeat and lively that the film doesn't feel anywhere near as long as it actually is.
The story takes place in 1938 Salzburg, Austria, opening with shots of various mountain landscapes and establishing shots of houses and the basic landscape. We then zoom into a hilltop, where we meet Maria (Julie Andrews), a young, free-spirited woman who is singing that 'The Hills Are Alive.' We learn that Maria is studying to become a nun at the Nonnberg Abbey, but the nuns at the abbey are concerned that Maria's love for music and singing, her youthful enthusiasm, and her habit of spending long amounts of time away from the abbey will prevent her from ever being a nun. The abbey is headed by The Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood), and she believes that it would be best for Maria to spend some time away from the abbey. Maria is sent to the home of retired naval officer Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) and is to serve as governess to his seven children. Captain von Trapp is a cold figure who imposes strict discipline on his children, but Maria realizes this is largely due to the fact that the Captain lost his wife and has been raising his children alone. The children don't take too kindly to Maria at first, playing pranks on her in hopes of driving her away. Despite this, Maria shows the children kindness and warmth, and they all eventually come to accept Maria into their household.
The Captain goes away to Vienna for a while, and Maria takes this time to bring music back into the children's lives, teaching them how to sing, and shedding them of their no-nonsense mannerisms. The Captain eventually returns, and after hearing his children sing to the Baroness Else Schraeder (Eleanor Parker), a woman that the Captain brings back from Vienna, he comes to accept the return of singing and music into their lives. Not all is well however, as the Captain and Maria struggle to express romantic feelings that the two develop for one another, and the family must also deal with Austria being annexed by the rising Third Reich.
- It's not just that The Sound of Music features great singing and great music, it's that the songs have titles and lyrics that are bound to stick with you and have you humming them long afterwards. None of the songs are there just to have a song and be cheery just for the sake of being cheery, the songs are there to enhance the characters and fuel the plot. The opening song, "The Hills Are Alive" and the way its sung by Maria gives us an immediate picture of who she is: a fun-loving, youthful personality who fully understands how music and singing can bring joy and comfort to one's life. The children and eventually The Captain see this in her, and Maria's confident radiance rubs off on all of them. Then you have songs such as, "Maria", "Do-Re-Mi" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" that all generate character development and give us a better insight in to how everyone thinks and feels.
- Christopher Plummer's performance as The Captain is quite special because of how natural it seems. Plummer absolutely hated working on the movie, admitting to eating and drinking excessively in order to drown out his unhappiness, even admitting that he was drunk during one of the scenes. I think Plummer's disgust towards being in the film actually helped him make the Captain even better as the stern, fun-killing father that he is, conveying facial expressions that utterly refuse to show a modicum of emotion, and walking with a temper that says, "one false move and I'll blow up in your face."
- It can't be denied that The Sound of Music is super corny, in the sense that the characters come to love one another in a way that would be similar to a group of close-knit girl friends squishing their cheeks together for a picture because they love each other so much. Granted, characters aren't smiling from ear to ear the entire time with an annoying, "Look at me! I'm so happy!" face, but when they're singing and dancing, Maria and the children are just the happiest little things you'll ever see. One of the corniest moments of the entire film happens early on, when Maria is speaking with The Mother Abbess, and she says she was gone in the hills because the sky was so blue, and the trees were so green, and she just had to be a part of it. If that's not corny, then I don't know what is. I don't mean to confuse the movie being corny with how effective and memorable its singing and music are. The emotions attached to all of the songs and music is where the corniness comes from.
Being corny, however, does not in any meaningful way diminish all of the sweetness and wonderful things to be had in The Sound of Music: a musical that is in no way hamstrung by its source material, nor is a victim to the power of time. Julie Andrews is marvelous in her first major performance following Mary Poppins, and Christopher Plummer's performance is a highly underrated one, mirroring how much the actor despised being part of the production. To not be charmed by The Sound of Music is to have a heart of solid granite, and to not consider it one of the better Best Picture winners is inconceivable to say the least.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: