The Sound Of Music

Dir: Robert Wise, 1965. Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn. Musicals.
The Sound Of Music

Once upon a time in Hollywood, in the 1960s, big lavish adaptations of Broadway musicals were the hot ticket in movies, not just at the box-office but on Oscar night as well. Luckily Easy Rider, young driven counterculture, and the fall of the big studios eventually put an end to the era. Though I’m not generally a fan of musicals, I do have a lot of affection for The Sound Of Music. The film is carried by the charmingly virginal Julie Andrews as Maria, whose beautiful singing voice and pleasant manner take her from a charming nunnery to being nanny to a bunch of Austrian would-be Shirley Temples, and through song she cools the heels of their stern father Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), eventually wedding him. By Act Two, hours later, the happy Partridge-esq family now must flee Nazis taking over their beloved Alps homeland, but not before singing a few more songs to an adoring public. As hard as it may be to believe, shot by director Robert Wise in big, brash 70mm style, this is incredibly entertaining fluff.

Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) is in a huff because the rebellious Maria is bringing chaos to the Abby with her constant singing, so she wisely sends her off to bring her pep to the gloomy widowed Von Trapp and his passel of blond haired marching children. When around he treats his kids like young cadets, even the teensy ones, although he is usually hanging with the Baroness (Eleanor Parker, who later played three different characters on three episodes of TV’s Fantasy Island), a middle aged divorcee on the make with her scheming partner, the music promoter Max (Richard Haydn of Young Frankenstein). Maria quickly figures out all these young scamps need is love…. and music. Before you can say "Do-Re-Mi" she has them in Tabernacle Choir shape. At first Von Trapp is put off by Maria’s groovy ways but when he hears his kid’s powerful acapella version of “The Sound Of Music” this breaks the ice and he becomes a father of the year candidate. All is going well, Max even offers to manage the new musical family act. But the baroness feels threatened by the obviously younger and less leathery Maria, and convinces her to pack her bags, leave the family, and go back to Nunville. Dramatic! End of Act One.

In the second half Maria returns, she and Von Trapp finally hook up, they get married. It all seems like one long yodeling family style honeymoon until the Nazis start poking their heads into things, even brainwashing the nice delivery boy. They have some conflict with Von Trapp so he has to sneak his family out of town and through the Alps, but not before the big Folk Festival that the family rocks before fleeing through the tunnels to a better life of mountain skiing and schnitzel with noodles. And apparently, most extraordinary of all, this is all kinda-sorta based on a real life family!

For director Wise, after his massive success with West Side Story, taking on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s hit musical was a no-brainer. After being the editor on Citizen Kane, he then became an incredibly versatile filmmaker, going from horror (Curse Of the Cat People) to a lot of Noir (The Set-Up, etc.) and then peaking with his Sci-fi masterpiece, The Day the Earth Stood. Still, ten years later he would hit it big again with those two giant musicals. In the meantime his crazy filmography would range from the Paul Newman boxing bio Somebody Up There Likes Me, to the Susan Hayward weeper I Want To Live!, to the respected horror flicks The Haunting and Audrey Rose, as well as the boring Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In retrospect though The Sound Of Music was his biggest hit (in its day it was considered the largest money maker since Gone With The Wind). The guy was one diverse director, to say the least. And even if you are one cold bastard and find The Sound Of Music to be rather icky, you can’t deny it’s a solid piece of genre filmmaking.

For Julie Andrews, after making a splash on the stage in My Fair Lady and then losing out on the film version to the bigger star (the non-singing Audrey Hepburn), The Sound Of Music was part of a one-two punch along with Mary Poppins that made her an international superstar. Unfortunately she never excelled playing non-singing nannies. In her follow up, Torn Curtain, she proved to be one of the worst Hitchcock leading ladies ever, and could not drudge up any sexual charisma with her co-star, Paul Newman. Though she would find plenty of work, usually under the direction of her husband Blake Edwards, her days as a major actress where done. Like Anthony Perkins in Psycho, she has never been able to shake her iconic role as Maria from audiences minds.

The Sound Of Music is full of enjoyable songs, now standards in the musical theater songbook, including the title song as well as “My Favorite Things,” “So Long, Farewell,” and “Climb Every Mountain.” Admittedly this family favorite is not going to be everybody’s bag, I’m still rather shocked how much I like it. It’s corny and even cloying, but so what? It’s also a lot of fun. That opening helicopter crane shot of Andrews frolicking in the Alps alone is worth the price of admission.


The Sound of Music won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Score. It was nominated for an additional five Oscars for Best Actress (Julie Andrews), Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Wood), Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction, and Best Color Costume Design.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
May 4, 2011 6:22pm
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