Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
The Sound of Music is a musical drama film released in 1965 that is based on the 1959 musical of the same name by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Produced and directed by Robert Wise, the film depicts a young nun in Salzburg, Austria who becomes governess of a naval officer's seven children in the months before the start of the Second World War. The film stars Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews, Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn and is largely based on a true story as told by the real Maria von Trapp. The film initially received a lukewarm reaction from critics, but it proved massively popular with audiences around the world - within two years, the film had overtaken Gone With The Wind to become the highest earning movie in history at the time. It has since earned a highly respectable $286 million. It would go on to earn five Academy Awards and was selected for preservation at the US National Film Registry in 2001. Even today, the film remains hugely popular with bus tours around Salzburg and the surrounding area running while frequent screenings with a sing-along version run all over the world, often featuring audiences dressed up as their favourite characters.
What's It About?
Maria is a young Austrian woman training to be a nun in 1938 when she is assigned by the Mother Abbess to the villa belonging to retired naval officer Captain Von Trapp to become the governess to his seven children. Since the tragic passing of their mother, the children had been raised solely by Captain Von Trapp using his rather severe military background. Initially, the free-spirited Maria is seen as something of a soft touch by the children who misbehave under her watch but over time and with some considerable patience, she wins the children over with her singing and easy-going charm.
When the Captain leaves for a few days, Maria takes the opportunity to teach the children how to sing and they perform for their father when she returns. Although he is disapproving of Maria's influence on his highly disciplined children, he is won over hearing them sing and joins them. Dismissive of Maria's pleas to spend more time with them, Von Trapp slowly finds his resistance dwindling as his attraction to Maria grows. However, their budding romance takes a dramatic turn when the rise of Nazi Germany threatens their peaceful existence in the remote Austrian mountains...
What's to Like?
The Sound of Music is one of those films that Hollywood rarely makes these days where no effort is spared to make every frame of the film as good as it can be. It's full of sweeping vistas of the Alps, memorable songs that will stick in your mind for the rest of your life and a genuinely enthralling narrative at the heart of the film. If ever the word 'sumptuous' were used to describe a film, this would surely be it. As if this isn't enough to win over viewers, the film capitalises on the performances of both Plummer and Andrews in particular as the pair generate some legitimate chemistry as the mismatched couple clashing over childcare. If anything, the two stars overshadow their colleagues including the younger cast members playing the seven Von Trapp children, all of whom are believable and endearing as the wholesome family.
What I really enjoyed was that the film contains a number of surprises, mostly those which, thankfully, take the edge of the film's excessive sweetness. While the overall tone of the film is rather predictable, the atmosphere changes significantly when the film introduces some real life history into proceedings. The menace of the encroaching Nazi threat suddenly gives the film some potency and brings about a direction just when the film was in danger of flagging. But like a giant gobstopper, the film does just enough to keep your focus and even if it does repeat at times, you simply don't care because it's just too much fun. What really makes the film stand out from many other film adaptations of stage musicals is that the film makes use of the big screen to full effect, helping the film feel less theatrical than its origin would suggest. This is epic filmmaking on a grand scale and it really shows.
- Andrews was the first choice for the role of Maria - she was cast after Wise and screenwriter Lehman viewed a few reels of Mary Poppins at Disney before that film was released, believing that everyone would want to cast her in that film's aftermath. Andrews would even sing songs from that film to the younger cast, specifically the song "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" as they thought that Andrews had made it up.
- The film contains a couple of bloopers that Wise left in unedited. During the argument scene between Maria and Von Trapp, Plummer accidentally called Andrews 'Captain' - something his character was and not hers, obviously. Andrews herself can be seen tripping up in the courtyard during her performance of the song 'I Have Confidence' but Wise left it in the finished film, feeling that it added nervousness to the song and character.
- Plummer hated his time on the movie, referring to Julie Andrews as Ms Disney backstage and described working with her as like being hit on the head with a giant Valentine's Day card every day. He also ate and drank far too much, so much so that his costumes often had to be refitted during the shoot. However, Plummer later admitted that he was immature at the time and remained good friends with Andrews for the rest of his life.
What's Not to Like?
The film's narrative, of a young nun befriending a stern family man and his musically gifted children, feels far too camp and convenient to be true but this is apparently how it all happened according to the actual Maria's memoirs detailing the family's escape from Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, this saccharine taste lasts for most of the film's excessive run time and it only really lifts in the final third. For many viewers, this camp and jovial atmosphere is part of the film's appeal but I'm afraid that it isn't to my particular taste. Truth be told, I enjoyed the scenery more than the singing although neither carry much in the way of faults. And although it goes without saying, anyone who has caught the stage musical before seeing this film version will not only be aware of the story's progression but also probably be singing along with the cast, which may overshadow the original performances if your singing is as bad as mine is.
But in all honesty, such flaws within the film are trivial at best. This is still a landmark picture, possibly the last of the great Hollywood musicals before the genre went out of fashion in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Even for someone like me for whom musicals aren't really to their taste, The Sound of Music is simply too good to ignore. It's a dizzying whirlwind of melody, colour, romance and drama that feels familiar but still fresh and enjoyable for viewers in the right frame of mind. Even some of the less solid songs (I'm not a fan of 'So Long, Farewell' with its lyrics forced into rhyming against their will) will still put a smile on your face because, lets face it, the world has been singing these songs since the film was first released and it turns out, with good reason.
Should I Watch It?
As infectious as the Omicron variant but considerably more enjoyable, this film should still be regarded as one of the greatest filmed musicals of all time. Lavish production values married with that timeless performance from Julie Andrews and those unforgettable songs make The Sound of Music simply unmissable for anyone looking for a terrific musical, a heart-warming romance or a family film that only fidgety children will struggle to enjoy. If you're so inclined, grab a costume and try to attend one of the many sing-along screenings held at your nearest cinema because it's possibly one of the silliest and most fun evenings you'll ever have.
Great For: fans of musicals, the Austrian tourism industry, any man looking for an excuse to dress up as a nun, belting up show tunes
Not So Great For: small bladders, restless legs, Christopher Plummer
What Else Should I Watch?
Having said that I'm no fan of film musicals, there have been a number I've seen over the years that have challenged my initial distaste. Perhaps the closest film to compare with this one would be Julie Andrews' other reason for her enduring popularity - Disney's part-animated musical fantasy Mary Poppins which later saw itself adapted for the stage very successfully in 2004. Like Maria, Andrews' performance in the title role is the stuff of legend and the film remains one of her best, if not the best, of her entire career. Perhaps the best of the classic Hollywood musicals is, for me, Singin' In The Rain which not only has that iconic sequence featuring Gene Kelly swinging around lampposts soaked through but also an unbelievably energetic performance from co-star Donald O'Conner and a star-making turn from a young Debbie Reynolds. Others well worth your time include The Wizard Of Oz, The King And I, South Pacific and the undeniably corny but still very festive White Christmas.
By the mid-Seventies, stage musicals were becoming less successful and less popular with audiences and suddenly, a new style of film musical emerged. Soundtracks were filled with songs that were less theatrical and more radio-friendly to help appeal to a broader audience such as the Fifties-themed rock musical Grease and the cult camp of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When jukebox musical The Blues Brothers came along, traditional musical-style songs were only really found in animated Disney films starting with The Little Mermaid, a film that almost single-handedly saved the animation studio from financial disaster and led to other hits like Aladdin and The Lion King.
Captain Georg Von Trapp
Baroness Elsa von Schraeder
Release Date (UK)
29th March, 1965
Drama, Family, Musical
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Music
Academy Award Nominations
Best Actress (Andrews), Best Supporting Actress (Wood), Best Colour Cinematography, Best Colour Set Decoration, Best Colour Costume
© 2021 Benjamin Cox