Yet the romance of Capt. Von Trapp and Maria is but one reason why Robert Wise’s “The Sound of Music,” adapted to film from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1959 musical, wholeheartedly deserves its reputation as a classic. From the stunning scenery (marvel at expansive beauty shots of the Bavarian Alps) to the clever dialogue and the eminently hummable musical numbers (“My Favorite Things,” anyone?) to the memorable, often surprising characters (some nuns, apparently, know their way around the underbelly of a car hood), “The Sound of Music” is all-consuming, all-pleasing experience for the senses. Enchanting doesn’t begin to describe it.
If Robert Wise’s adaptation of the musical seems larger-than-life, maybe even a little self-consciously epic in scope, it is the distinctive characters that ground all that magic. The film, set in 1939 and very loosely based on the story of Georg Ludwig Von Trapp and his singing family, opens with suggestions that the lovable but undisciplined Maria, a postulant at the Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg, Austria, has become constant thorn in the side of the Mother Abbess (a wryly comic Peggy Wood). Miraculously, Capt. Von Trapp provides the sisters with an answer to the “how do you solve a problem like Maria?’ dilemma: The widower needs yet another new governess for his seven children. The Rev. Mother pushes Maria to take the job as a way to “experience the world.”
But the abbey, Maria finds out, hasn’t prepared her to deal with someone like Capt. Von Trapp, an extremely strict disciplinarian who forces his children to march instead of play and respond to whistle blasts instead of their names. He has little patience for the new governess, who refuses to censor her opinions or tone down her sunny disposition. At first dismissive of Maria, the children — Liesl (Charmian Carr) and Friedrich (Nicholas Hammond), the oldest, Louisa (Heather Menzies), Kurt (Duane Chase), Brigitta (Angela Cartwright) and Marta (Debbie Turner) and Gretl (Kym Karath), the two youngest — slowly come to see her as an ally, then someone able to bring life back into their home. Capt. Von Trapp sees this, too, particularly when Maria teaches the children a song to sing for The Baroness (Eleanor Parker), a wealthy woman the captain has begun dating. “You brought music back into the house,” he says, stunned and more than a bit shaken. “I had forgotten.” In that moment, he finds something he’s lost at nearly the same time Maria realizes her voice and heart have found their home.
Interwoven into this unlikely romance is a more serious subplot involving Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte), a young courier besotted with Liesl who joins the Nazi party but issues repeated warnings to Capt. Von Trapp that he is expected to serve the Third Reich, which has taken power in Austria. These stories eventually converge, providing a conclusion by turns triumphant and bittersweet.
In sweeping films like “The Sound of Music,” length necessitates the blending of everything from the musical score (here beautifully done) to cinematography and costuming to the acting. All these elements click perfectly, particularly the chemistry between Plummer, who does a fine job showing Von Trapp’s slow transformation from chilly rigidity to warmth and happiness, and Andrews, that rare singing actress whose acting abilities are as strong as her soaring voice. Saddled with the biggest parts, these actors inject enough humor and feeling to give Von Trapp and Maria enough edge to make them seem flawed, vulnerable, nuanced. Leads in musicals rarely seem this real, so it’s impossible not to root for them to find their true purpose in each other.
Filed under: Old Stuff, Reviews | Tagged: Angela Cartwright, Charmian Carr, Christopher Plummer, Daniel Truhitte, Debbie Turner, Duane Chase, Eleanor Parker, Heather Menzies, Julie Andrews, Kym Karath, Nicholas Hammond, Peggy Wood, The Sound of Music |