The Sound of Music… well, what can I say? And why should I bother? If any movie were ever critic-proof, it’s this one. In fact, famed critic Pauline Kael was fired for daring to write a bad review of it when it first came out. Julie Andrews sure worked her mojo on that one.
Funny thing is: The Sound of Music doesn’t need protection from critics. Yes, it’s schmaltzy, but it’s not nearly as schmaltzy as, say, Titanic. Yes it has all those adorable kids and all those adorable songs and even a cute puppet show stuck right in the middle of it, but it also has grit, drama, and some harrowing moments. Hell, it’s got Nazis racing around in big black cars! It is a total cinematic experience, and one that benefits greatly from technological advances that let you enjoy its lavish sights and sounds on a big TV screen with big surround speakers that make it feel like Julie Andrews is embracing your or the Nazis are sneaking up on you from behind.
Forty years after its release, and almost 50 years after the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical premiered on Broadway, the story is very familiar: a rich Austrian widower who happens to be a former Navy captain needs a governess to tend to his seven children. He requests one from the nearby Salzburg convent, and they’re only too happy to send him young Maria, a novice who doesn’t readily obey all the strict rules of nunhood. Maria is terrified of the officious captain and appalled by the militaristic and loveless techniques he uses to keep his brood in line. With love and music she wins over the children and eventually the captain, too. She leaves the religious life behind, steals the captain away from his girlfriend, the bitchy Baroness (Eleanor Parker), and the two marry, only to find that the Nazis have arrived in Austria, and they want the Captain to go back to sea for them. How will he protect his new wife and his family from this terrible new reality?
There’s a song for every twist in the story, and many of them are sung on location in remarkable Austrians settings. The decision to film on location was pivotal to The Sound of Music‘s success. Even if you hate the movie, you’ll have to admit that it is simply gorgeous, no more so than in its opening minutes, when the overture is accompanied by aerial views of mountains and castles, all of which lead up to that iconic image of Maria spinning in the fields, her arms outstretched. Corny, maybe, but you’ll note that your heart rate increases just a bit as you watch.
The ‘Do Re Mi’ number, filmed all over Salzburg, is a musical and technical triumph as well, and when the Mother Abbess lets loose with ‘Climb Every Mountain,’ you may just lose it. Other moments aren’t quite as transcendent. Christopher Plummer was clearly hired for his patrician bearing, not for his singing voice, and Charmain Carr, who plays the oldest child, Leisl, is a bit much to take as she sings of her love for her dancing Nazi boyfriend, Rolfe, in ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen.’ (It should be noted, however, that some voices were dubbed.)
There’s never a boring moment in the film’s three-hour running time, and the final act, when the family, now known as The Von Trapp Family Singers, are plotting their escape from the Nazis, is actually tremendously exciting. Can Maria keep all seven kids quiet as they hide behind spooky tombstones in the abbey graveyard? This bit is so harrowing that it may be too much for young children, but fortunately, it all works out. Did you really think a bunch of mean old Nazis could keep the angelic Julie Andrews from spreading her music and love?
The 40th Anniversary DVD is packed with extras, including an intro from Andrews, commentary from most of the cast, commentary from Wise, a karaoke mode, and then there’s disc two: Retrospectives galore, archive material, and a must-see screen test by Mia Farrow for the role of Liesl.
And it brings us back to D’oh!