#298) The Sound of Music (1965)
OR “Nun Better”
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Ernest Lehman. Based on the stage play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Music and Lyrics by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II.
Class of 2001
We have one of the all-time classics on this list, so buckle down: it’s a two-parter.
The Plot: Based on some parts of a true story, Maria Rainer (Julie Andrews) is a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg during the late ‘30s. Deemed too free-spirited by the nuns, the Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) sends Maria to be governess for the children of naval Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). A widower with seven children, Captain von Trapp runs his house with firm discipline, a style that clashes with Maria’s sunny Julie Andrews-ness. But the children love her, and Georg eventually warms up to Maria. With a possible marriage to the Baroness Elsa von Schraeder (Eleanor Parker), and the Third Reich invading/annexing Austria, the Captain must stand by his ideals and his homeland, and falls for Maria in the process. Oh, and it’s a musical.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “[o]ne of the most popular movie musicals of all time” and then gives a detailed plot summary.
But Does It Really?: Well I see why this movie is so popular. “The Sound of Music” is not only one of the most delightful musicals ever, but one of the most delightful movies, period. The film is infectiously joyous, with a never-better Julie Andrews leading the way. Robert Wise and Ernest Lehman make one intelligent decision after another, and transform a good play into an excellent film. Time has only aided this film’s popularity, and “The Sound of Music” continues to be entertaining, warm, and uncomfortably relevant in these Nazi-reboot times we live in. “The Sound of Music” is a near-perfect movie, and the NFR should be ashamed it took 12 years to add it to the Registry.
Everybody Gets One: Most of the supporting cast, notably three-time Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker and longtime stage and film veteran Peggy Wood.
Take a Shot: Man oh man, do we have a title number for you.
Seriously, Oscars?: By the time the Oscar nominations rolled around, “The Sound of Music” had surpassed “Gone with the Wind” as the highest grossing movie of all time. “Sound of Music” tied for the most Oscar nominations of 1965 (10) with another epic blockbuster: David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago”. The two films were neck-and-neck, ultimately winning five apiece, but “Sound of Music” took home Best Picture and Director. Julie Andrews, the previous year’s Best Actress winner for “Mary Poppins”, lost to another Julie – Christie for “Darling”. The only part that baffles me is how Ernest Lehman didn’t get an Adapted Screenplay nomination.
- Though based on a true story, several details were altered when creating the original stage version, hence why Maria von Trapp’s original memoir is not cited in the credits. There are, however, a few ideas lifted from the 1956 West German film “Die Trapp-Familie”, whose screenwriter George Hurdalek gets a special thanks in the opening credits.
- Now this is how you open up a play! That’s not an opening number, that’s an IMAX movie!
- Shoutout to Marni Nixon, dubbing artist to the stars, finally getting some on-camera time as Sister Sophia.
- How can you not love Julie Andrews? If she didn’t blow you away with the title number, “I Have Confidence” will put you in Maria’s corner for the rest of the film. Speaking of, look out for the real Maria von Trapp as Julie Andrews approaches the von Trapp manor.
- I get it, Christopher Plummer: You want everyone to know you are so much more than Captain von Trapp. A stage veteran with a handful of film credits, Plummer only accepted the role if he was allowed to make the Captain more dimensional. And so he did: Plummer is giving a wonderfully subtle performance under the character’s limited range.
- This must be the part of Austria where no one has accents.
- Here’s how good this movie is: There’s a plotline involving Nazis and it’s still a perennial family classic.
- Like “West Side Story”, Lehman and Wise knew that adapting a musical to a film requires changes. A few songs were deleted, while others were moved to different scenes. An example of the latter: “My Favorite Things” is now what Maria sings to calm the children during the thunderstorm, which is a more natural fit than “The Lonely Goatherd”. All of Lehman’s alterations make for a stronger musical.
- I’m glad Maria didn’t listen to her friend Carol Burnett when she made clothing out of the curtains.
- Even the brilliant songwriting team of Rodgers & Hammerstein couldn’t come up with a more clever way to describe “la”, other than “a note to follow so”.
- During the “Do Re Mi” montage, Julie Andrews sings while pedaling a bike. Someone didn’t skip leg day.
- Eleanor Parker never gets the credit she deserves with the Baroness. Her performance makes the character flawed, but not evil. Well, except for the boarding school part. That’s Evil Stepmother 101.
- Was Tony Randall unavailable to play Max? Richard Hayden finds the right decibel level with a character you could very easily play over-the-top.
- I got genuine chills when the children sing the “Sound of Music” reprise.
- “The Lonely Goatherd” is the closest this film gets to a superfluous number, but Bil Baird’s puppetry spices things up. I just want to know how much furniture Maria cannibalized to make those marionettes.
- “Edelweiss” is my favorite song in the score. Simple, beautiful, powerful, and the last song Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote together. Special mention to Bill Lee, dubbing Christopher Plummer.
- First rule of adapting a stage musical to film: If you cut a song, put it in the underscore. Robert Wise decreed that Max and the Baroness would not sing in the film, so their duet, “How Can Love Survive?” appears only as an instrumental during the Captain’s party.
And just like in the film, here is where we take our act break. Part 2 coming soon. In fact, right now.