Filmsite Movie Review
The Sound of Music (1965)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Background

The Sound of Music (1965) was an exceptionally successful film in the mid-1960s - at the time of its release, it surpassed Gone With the Wind (1939) as the number one box office hit of all time. It was the high-point of the Hollywood musical. [In 1978, the film's status as the most successful musical was finally surpassed by Grease (1978). However, it was earlier ousted by the box-office epic The Godfather (1972).]

This wholesome production from producer/director Robert Wise (of the previously popular West Side Story (1961) for which he won the same two Oscars) and 20th Century Fox has become one of the most favorite, beloved films of moviegoers. It is a joyous, uplifting, three-hour adaptation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's 1959 hit Broadway stage musical (that starred Mary Martin). [This was the well-known partnership's last collaboration]. The story follows a good-natured, flighty novitiate (Andrews) who is hired to care for the seven children of a militaristic, icy, widowed Austrian captain (Plummer). She ultimately wins the heart of the children - and the captain, but their lives are threatened by the encroachment of Nazis.

Marketing slogans cried: "The Happiest Sound in All the World." Ernest Lehman's screenplay was based on the book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. That book was in turn based on Baroness Maria von Trapp's 1949 autobiography (The von Trapp Family Singers) about the exploits of the family of singers and their escape from the Nazis in Austria in 1938. The first film version was a German film titled Die Trapp-Familie (1956), with a sequel Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958). After the 1965 film's enormous success, Fox Studios unwisely invested millions in three more, less profitable, blockbuster musicals in the late 60s - Dr. Doolittle (1967), Star! (1968), and Hello, Dolly! (1969).

The star of the film was the previous year's Best Actress Academy Award winner, a fresh-faced Julie Andrews in a similar role as her governess performance in Mary Poppins (1964). She is accompanied by her lovely singing voice, glorious, on-location travelogue views of Salzburg, Austria filmed in 70 mm, and melodic, memorable sing-along tunes, including "Maria," "The Sound of Music," "My Favorite Things," "You Are Sixteen, Going On Seventeen," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," "Do-Re-Mi," and "Edelweiss."

In fact, there was an interactive, audience-participation version imported from London in 2000 - a limited theatrical re-release of The Sound of Music with subtitled musical numbers to allow for sing-a-long participation. Audiences were also invited to dress up in The Sound of Music-inspired costumes, and to react with props (such as an artificial sprig of edelweiss) provided in a Fun Pak. ["Sing-A-Long Sound of Music" first emerged at the 1988 London Gay and Lesbian Film festival after an event organizer heard that staff at a retirement home in the Scottish town of Inverness had distributed song sheets during a video showing of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) for sing-along participation. The film was screened at the festival as a sing-along and proved wildly successful.]

The sentimental, entertaining musical was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and came away with five major wins: Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Wise), Best Sound, Best Score (Irwin Kostal), and Best Film Editing (William Reynolds). Its other five nominations were for Best Actress (Julie Andrews who lost to Julie Christie in Darling), Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Wood), Best Color Cinematography (Ted McCord), Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Color Costume Design.

The Story

The opening sequence of The Sound of Music is a much-heralded, breath-taking piece of film-making. With a sweeping aerial view, the film opens with a left-to-right camera pan through the clouds and across rocky, snow-covered mountains. The camera dips into a green, wooded valley with steep cliffs that descend into a snow-fed lake. Reflections of the hills are viewed in the mirror-like images on the water's surface. As the camera moves over the European landscape and village, it discovers an open, green area nestled between the peaks. It moves closer and zooms into the green field, where it suddenly finds a happy and joyous Maria (Julie Andrews), a novice Salzburg Austrian nun, walking across the wide expanse of land. With open-armed appreciation of the beauty of the surrounding majestic peaks and vistas of the Austrian Alps, she twirls and sings the title song. For her: "The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music."

The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears.
My heart wants to beat like the wings
Of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees,
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies from a church on a breeze,
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls
Over stones on its way
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray.
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely,
I know I will hear what I've heard before.
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I'll sing once more.

Because of her adventuresome, flighty and stubborn nature, she spends so much time singing and dancing on the mountainside that she has neglected most of her postulant duties at the Abbey. She hears distant church bells pealing, reminding her that she is late and must immediately return to the nunnery. The setting is Austria in the late 1930's just before the annexation of Austria with Nazi Germany:

Salzburg, Austria, in the last Golden Days of the Thirties.

In Maria's nunnery, the nuns walk to chapel, chanting "Dixit Dominus." Prayers have been said in the chapel, but Maria is nowhere to be found, according to Sister Bernice (Evadne Baker): "I have looked everywhere, in all the usual places." Sister Margaretta (Anna Lee) defends Maria: "After all, the wool of a black sheep is just as warm." Sister Berthe (Portia Nelson), the Mistress of Novices, is uncertain of the future of the independent-minded, spirited nun-in training: "We are not talking about sheep, black or white, Sister Margaretta. Of all the candidates for the novitiate, I would say Maria is the least likely."

From the viewpoint of Sister Sophia (Marni Nixon in her first appearance on the screen, although she was the ghost singing voice for Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961) and for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964)), "...she always seems to be in trouble, doesn't she?" The nuns gossip about the young novitiate's unusual behavior with the song "Maria":

The Reverend Mother (Peggy Wood) wonders about how to cure the deficiencies of the troublesome, flighty, outspoken, and unpredictable trainee:

How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?...Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her, many a thing she ought to understand...How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

In the Reverend Mother's chambers, the tardy Maria apologizes profusely for being distracted by the majestic scenery, and she begs for forgiveness: "I just couldn't help myself. The gates were open and the hills were beckoning...I can't seem to stop singing wherever I am." In the hopes that Maria's vocational goals are better suited elsewhere, the Mother Superior suggests that she leave the nunnery before she decides whether to become a monastic, cloistered nun: "It seems to be the will of God that you leave us...only for a while, Maria...Perhaps if you go out into the world for a time, knowing what we expect of you, you will have a chance to find out if you can expect it of yourself."

It is arranged for Maria to take a job as a governess/nanny for a family near Salzburg "until September...to take care of seven children" - of the widowed Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer, although Yul Brynner was originally considered for the role),

a retired officer of the Imperial Navy, a fine man and a brave one. His wife died several years ago, leaving him alone with the children. Now I understand he's had a most difficult time managing to keep a governess there.

Scared, doubtful and worried as she departs from the familiar surroundings of the Abbey, Maria walks away with her duffel bag and guitar case toward her bus transport into the countryside. She bolsters her confidence with "I Have Confidence in Me." She peers through the gate as she arrives at the magnificent von Trapp villa, gasping: "Oh, help!" After butler Franz (Gil Stuart) greets her at the front door, she walks into the ballroom and begins to dance by herself. The Captain enters by slamming open both doors, startling her and causing her to run from the room. She is sternly reprimanded by the strait-laced widower:

In the future, you'll kindly remember there are certain rooms in this house which are not to be disturbed.

Maria is warned by the harsh disciplinarian that she is "twelfth in a long line of governesses" who have attempted to look after the mother-less von Trapp children: "..the last one - she stayed only two hours." After a daunted Maria inquires: "What's wrong with the children, sir?," she is cautioned that the problems were with the previous nannies: "They were completely unable to maintain discipline. Without it, this house cannot be properly run. Will you please remember that, Fraulein?" Since his wife died, naval hero Trapp has strictly helmed his house like a militaristic, humorless naval ship - there is no time for play and his regimented children function like a troop of automaton-sailors:

Every morning, you will drill the children in their studies. I will not permit them to dream away their summer holidays. Each afternoon, they will march about the grounds breathing deeply. Bedtime is to be strictly observed - no exceptions...You will see to it that they conduct themselves at all time with the utmost orderliness and decorum. I am placing you in command.

The Captain summons the children to come down with his boatswain's whistle. Each wearing a drab, modified sailor's uniform, they line up on the upper floor's balcony (from the eldest to youngest) and march down the stairs in unison. They are identified by an individualized whistle sound - as each signal is played, they step forward and announce their names to Maria:

Maria is instructed: "You, Fraulein, will listen carefully. Learn their signals so that you can call them when you want them." The novice governess defiantly confronts the Captain regarding his summoning technique:

I could never answer to a whistle. Whistles are for dogs and cats and other animals, but not for children, and definitely not for me. It would be too humiliating.

The seven mischievous, incorrigible children test her and play a prank upon her, as they have done previously to run off other governesses. When she's not looking, they place a frog in her pocket. At the dinner table that evening in the formal dining room, Maria is again victimized by another of the childrens' antics - she sits on a rough-edged pine cone placed on her chair. She makes the children feel guilty for their practical jokes: "Knowing how nervous I must have been - a stranger in a new household, knowing how important it was for me to feel accepted, it was so kind and thoughtful of you to make my first moments here so warm and happy and pleasant."

Young, teenaged Rolf (Daniel Truhitte) delivers a telegram through Franz to the Captain, summoning him in the morning to Vienna to again visit Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Eleanor Parker) and Max Detweiler (Richard Hadyn), whom the children regard as their 'uncle.' Liesl sneaks outdoors to meet shy, 17 year-old boyfriend Rolf, who is waiting for her in the garden near the pavilion. Together in the bluish light of the evening, they sing of their innocent young, adolescent love on the brink of adulthood: "Sixteen Going on Seventeen." Thunder, lightning and rain forces them into the shelter of the gazebo where they continue singing and dancing in a magical sequence:

(Rolf): You are sixteen, going on seventeen, baby it's time to think.
Better beware, be canny and careful, baby you're on the brink.
You are sixteen, going on seventeen, fellows will fall in line...
Totally unprepared are you, to face a world of men.
Timid and shy and scared are you, of things beyond your kin.
You need someone older and wiser, telling you what to do.
I am seventeen, going on eighteen. I'll take care of you...

(Liesl): I am sixteen, going on seventeen. I know that I'm naive.
Fellows I meet may tell me I'm sweet, and willingly I believe.
I am sixteen, going on seventeen, innocent as a rose...
Totally unprepared am I, to face a world of men.
Timid and shy and scared am I, of things beyond my kin.
I need someone older and wiser telling me what to do.
You are seventeen, going on eighteen. I'll depend on you.

At the conclusion of their duet, they finally kiss just once. In reaction, Rolf races rapturously from the gazebo, while Liesl exclaims triumphantly with her arms outstretched: "Whee!"

Frau Schmidt (Norma Varden) delivers bolts of fabric material to Maria that the Captain had ordered from town to make new dresses for her. When she asks for more material to make playclothes for her charges, Frau Schmidt curtly lectures:

The von Trapp children don't play. They march.

According to her, since the Captain's wife died, he is aloof and cold and "runs this house as if he were on one of his ships again - whistles, orders, no more music, no more laughing. Nothing that reminds him of her, even the children." However, the last time he visited the Baroness, he remained in Vienna for a month and "the Captain is thinking very seriously of marrying the woman before the summer's over."

Maria prays by her bedside, blessing the Captain and the children:

Dear Father, now I know why you've sent me here. To help these children prepare themselves for a new mother. And I pray that this will become a happy family in thy sight. God bless the captain. God bless Liesl and Friedrich. God bless Louisa, Brigitta, Marta, and little Gretl. And, oh, I forgot the other boy. What's his name? Well, God bless what's-his-name. God bless the Reverend Mother and Sister Margaretta and everybody at Nonnberg Abbey. And now, dear God, about Liesl, help her know that I'm her friend. And help her to tell me what she's been up to...Shh, help me to be understanding so that I may guide her footsteps. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.

A rain-drenched, love-sick Liesl enters through her window from her dis-allowed rendezvous with Rolf. Three or four noisy peals of lightning and thunder bring in the other children in their pajamas - fearful of the storm. To allay their concerns, she advises them to think of "nice things...daffodils, green meadows, skies full of stars, raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens" when they are unhappy. She breaks into song, "My Favorite Things":

...bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings,
These are a few of my favorite things.
Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleighbells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things... When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things and then I don't feel so bad.

She wins them over to her side with singing and with her warm-heartedness and sense of fair play and humor. But when the Captain enters, the cowed children snap back to attention while Maria is reprimanded for not observing strict bedtime hours and accused of undermining his authority. She is reminded:

The first rule in this house is discipline.

After the Captain has left, she conceives the idea of making playclothes for the children from the cast-off material of the soon-to-be replaced drapes, and resumes joyously singing "My Favorite Things."

In the next scene, after the Captain has left for Vienna, Maria ignores his strict orders. She refuses to obey his harsh treatment of the family. Instead of keeping the children at home, she takes them on tours of the city and the surrounding countryside. The children accompany Maria to town, each wearing matching clothing from the heavy window drapes. They cross a footbridge and visit the open market for shopping, where she juggles ripe tomatoes. The happy group skips along the banks of a river, rides a train up into the Austrian Alps hills, where they experience an open-air picnic on the verdant grassy area of the film's opening sequence, with a magnificent panorama of beautiful peaks behind them. To prepare for the Baroness' arrival, she teaches them how to sing, beginning by giving a name to the fundamental notes of the scale - "Do-Re-Mi."

...the first three notes just happen to be, Do-Re-Mi.
Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti, oh let's see if I can make it easier
Doe, a deer, a female deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun
Me, a name I call myself, Far, a long, long way to run
Sew, a needle pulling thread, La, a note to follow So
Tea, a drink with jam and bread, that will bring us back to Do...

As the song continues, marked with superb, fresh choreography, they return to town. The clothing of the children changes to reflect the passage of time during the Captain's absence. She further explains that Do, Re, and Mi "are only the tools we use to build a song. Once you have these notes in your heads, you can sing a million different tunes by mixing them up, like this - So, Do, La, Fa, Mi, Do, Re, So, Do, La, Ti, Do, Re, Do." Then she adds one word for every note:

When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most any thing.

A quick-cut montage shows them walking, bicycling, riding in a carriage, and running. In the carriage sequence, each of the children take one of the seven notes on the scale - Maria points to them with the buggy whip, creating a melody with their voices: "Do, Mi, Mi, Mi, So, So, Re, Fa, Fa, La, Ti, Ti." On the steps of a garden area, she and the children jump up and down 'musical' steps - signifying higher and lower notes on the diatonic musical scale.


Next Page