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Review: “The Sound of Music” (1965)

The best love stories, the ones that strengthen and grow more meaningful with each passing year, are the ones where neither lover saves the other. Rather, these are the romances where two people find their best selves in each other and hold tight to this discovery, knowing how blessedly rare it is. The love story of straight-laced Austrian naval hero Capt. Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) and plucky Maria (Julie Andrews), a nun-turned-governess, is one such tale, and for that reason “The Sound of Music” refuses to wither on the vine, standing the test of time in ways that so few romantic comedies can.

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.

Grade: A

14 Responses

  1. This always has been and always will be one of my favorite films. I grew up watching it and still see it as the film to watch if I am feeling down. It makes me cry in parts now as well because of the love story and song “Something Good”.

    I always think of “My Favorite Things” scene when I can hear thunder as well. Julie Andrews was just perfect as Maria.

    I love this film so much.

    • I resisted seeing this for years because I’m not a “musicals person,” but when I finally saw the movie I understood why everyone loved it so much. It’s really a whole-package experience: scenery, music, comedy, drama, and great acting.

  2. […] original post here: Netflix Pick: “The Sound of Music” (1965) « M. Carter @ the Movies Share and […]

  3. […] more here: Netflix Pick: “The Sound of Music” (1965) « M. Carter @ the Movies Share and […]

  4. theres something about The Sound of Music that I just dont get. it doesnt have the same uplifting effect that other great musicals – Guys and Dolls springs to mind – have on me
    Christopher Plummer is a cool dude though

    • Agreed. Funny thing is that I didn’t know he was in “The Sound of Music.” Up until I saw that, he was “the dad from ‘Must Love Dogs.'” How SAD is that?

  5. haha Carter! i caught the second half of Must Love Dogs a few months back and i have to say i thought it was great. only an actress as skilled as Diane Lane could carry off that character. why cant she and John Cusack be in every film?

    • At the very least, they should be cast in every half-baked romantic comedy. Just one of them makes a semi-crummy movie better!

  6. (Sigh) I’ve seen this one too many times to count, but not too many times.
    And I must say that I did find it uplifting.

  7. This is indeed just lovely, and as wonderful as it all is, my favourite moment is in the picture above when they sing “Something Good” – best song in the score.

    • I’d have to agree with you on that one … I am not easily touched, but “Something Good” got me in the heart. Definitely the strongest song in my opinion.

  8. Like Caz, I grew up watching this. It’s one of the three Hollywood films my mom introduced me to when I could barely speak English, so naturally I still think it’s one of the greatest! 🙂

    Just want to comment on “The best love stories … are the ones where neither lover saves the other” I’ve always thought that Maria ‘saves’ the Captain in that she makes him ‘alive’ once more, as well as help him fall in love with his children all over again. But I guess you could say they did find their best selves in each other, that’s a pretty shrewd perspective.

    • It’s great to read all these comments from people who grew up loving “Sound of Music” — I came to the film relatively late in life, so it’s interesting to see what a huge role the film played in so many readers’ childhoods. At 28, I finally *get* why everyone loves it so much.

      I would agree that maybe there’s a little bit of saving going on in “The Sound of Music.” And if there is, I’d say it’s mutual — maybe Maria saves Capt. Von Trapp from a life dictated by joyless order and discipline, but he also saves her in a way, gives her a sense of place and purpose in her life. He makes her see, as the Rev. Mother told her, the life she was born to live.

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