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The Sound of Music (1965)

  • Review: **** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood, Anna Lee, Portia Nelson, Ben Wright, Daniel Truhitte, Norma Varden, Marni Nixon, Gil Stuart, Evadne Baker, Doris Lloyd, Charmian Carr, Nicholas Hammond, Heather Menzies, Duane Chase, Angela Cartwright, Debbie Turner, Kym Karath, Eleanor Parker
  • Director: Robert Wise
  • Screenplay: Ernest Lehman (Musical: Richard Rodgers, composer; Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse, book)
  • Length: 174 min.
  • MPAA Rating: G

There are few motion pictures that can become so ingrained in the psyche of generations of people. The Sound of Music is an immensely popular musical that hasn’t dulled even after 40 years.

The story is that of an ex-nun (Julie Andrews) whose joie de vivre was a distraction to the other sisters of her cloister. She takes the position as governess to the large van Trapp family. Maria becomes such an integral part of the household that the family’s patriarch Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) begins to fall in love with her.

Maria teaches the children to sing songs, all of which are now classic tunes. From “Do Re Mi” to “My Favorite Things”, Sound of Music is a significant part of our cultural landscape. How many people do you know that have no idea that ‘Do’ is a ‘deer, a female deer’ or some of Maria’s favorite things are ‘raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens’. The success of this musical is due entirely to the fantastic musical score of Richard Rodgers and the catchy lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II.

What The Sound of Music also has is a terrific cast, a celebrated screenwriter and a talented director. Robert Wise, who with Jerome Robbins, created the film version of West Side Story has created an indelible classic. He keeps the film light when it needs to be and creates the appropriate darkness at the necessary times. With the help of Ernest Lehman (the pen behind such classic film stories as The King and I, the aforementioned West Side Story, Hello, Dolly!, Sabrina, North by Northwest and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Wise crafts a joyous celebration of life.

Julie Andrews is one of the greatest gifts to musical theater. Her ability to convey the most complex emotional scenes alongside a powerful and moving voice have made her one of the most honored and sorely missed talents in film history. Christopher Plummer also performs admirably giving Captain von Trapp a soul hidden beneath the grim exterior of his professional mannerism.

A case could be made for the film’s sugar-coated vision of history. Everything leading up to the finale is bright, uncomplicated and fun. This happiness is interrupted when Captain von Trapp is forced to abandon his family to serve der Führer, he organizes an escape attempt that endangers the safety of Maria’s former convent and leads to one of the film’s more poignant scenes. To most viewers, the film is escapist entertainment. Though it glosses over significant historical events in order to soften their impact, it is nevertheless clear why this is done.

As human beings, we must believe that there is always a way out of the dark times of our lives. While we want to know the truth about the world around us, we still fear the unimaginable and hope for a peaceful solution to all conflicts. The Sound of Music gives these characters we’ve cared for and attached ourselves to a chance to live that life of freedom and happiness we can only wish for ourselves. It gives the human consciousness a much-needed respite from tragedy and engenders in us the strength to carry on though the situation may be dire.

Although I am grateful that filmmakers can show us how the human soul can become corrupted and not flinch from the nuances of true realism, I cannot begrudge The Sound of Music or any musical of its era from presenting this kind of hope-filled message. These characters may have gone through little compared with others less fortunate, but this type of narrative serves a noble purpose and for that I salute it.