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The Sound of Music Movie Review

wise lehman maria children

1965 – Robert Wise –

Initially given a cool critical reception, The Sound of Music became the box office king of its time. Few movies have generated such extreme comments, both positive and negative, as this musical about the novice governess who marries a widowed father of seven children while the Nazi threat looms in Austria in the late 1930s. How do you solve a problem like The Sound of Music? Is its sweetness as refreshing as its defenders say or as saccharin as its detractors insist? It is wrong to see the movie as a cinematic ink blot test that brings to the surface either the rosy-tinted or jaundiced attitudes of its viewer. The truth is that both elements—the idealized and the self-deprecating—appear throughout the film in effective and interesting ways.

Based on a true story, the film seems to be alternately swelling with sweetness and then deflating itself back to reality, a cinematic breathing exercise that works amazingly well. No sooner do the seven Von Trapp children march in wearing matching outfits and crisply responding to a series of whistles from their father (Christopher Plummer) than their new governess Fraulein Maria (Julie Andrews in a mature role following Mary Poppins) skewers the Captain by asking what whistle she should use to summon him. As the children later fall in for another song, Elsa the Baroness (Eleanor Parker) asks Max (Richard Haydn) under her breath why he didn't tip her off to bring her harmonica.

Chatting with Nazi officials, Max returns a Nazi salute with an indifferent scratch of the head. The opening scene contains a nun critical of Maria. And so it goes, alternating from sugary sentiment to a slightly darker version of the family's predicament. More subtly, a moment like the majestic “Climb Every Mountain” is staged in the dark, burnished glow of the Mother Abbess' quarters, a visual design that nicely contrasts with the soaring lyrics.

The credit for treading this tightrope belongs as much to screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who had worked on the script for over six months, as to Robert Wise, who was brought in to direct as a replacement for William Wyler. Adapting the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which starred Mary Martin, Lehman rearranged a few songs, making “My Favorite Things” a song Maria sings to the children rather than to the Mother Abbess, as on stage. Wise and Lehman wanted the part of the Captain rounded and humanized from the martinet in the stage musical. The casting of intense Plummer (Wise worked hard to talk the classically trained Canadian actor into accepting the part) was a conscious effort to strengthen a weak element of the story materials. The vastness and beauty of the Salzburg exteriors may keep the sugary aspects in check as well. Some would be surprised, and others wouldn't, to learn that Lehman, who adapted this script with its singing nuns and sweet children, also wrote Hitchcock's sly and cynical North by Northwest. Though different themes, both scripts are polished, professional jobs. Even for the many who put up their defenses, this movie has a way of coming in under the radar. As Lehman himself said, “I'm sorry, I can't help it, but every time I see The Sound of Music, I cry a little, sigh a little. It makes life seem to have such beautiful possibilities.”

Songs: “I Have Confidence in Me,” “Something Good,” “The Sound of Music,” “Preludium,” “Morning Hymn,” “Alleluia,” “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Every Mountain,” “Edelweiss,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “The Lonely Goatherd,” and “So Long, Farewell.”

Cast: Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Captain von Trapp), Eleanor Parker (the Baroness), Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler), Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess), Charmian Carr (Liesl), Heather Menzies (Louisa), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich), Duane Chase (Kurt), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta), Debbie Turner (Marta), Kym Karath (Gretl), Daniel Truhite (Rolfe), Norma Varden (Frau Schmidt), Gil Stuart (Franz), Marni Nixon (Sister Sophia) Screenwriter: Ernest Lehman Cinematographer: Ted McCord Composer: Richard Rodgers Producer: Robert Wise and Saul Chaplin for Twentieth Century Fox Running Time: 174 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1965: Adapted Score, Director (Robert Wise), Film Editing, Picture, Sound; Nominations: Actress (Julie Andrews); Art Direction/Set Decoration (Color), Color Cinematography, Costume Design (Color), Supporting Actress (Peggy Wood); Directors Guild of America Award 1965: Director (Robert Wise); Golden Globe Awards 1966: Actress—Musical/Comedy (Julie Andrews), Film—Musical/Comedy; National Board of Review Awards 1965: 10 Best Films of the Year Budget: $8M Box Office: $160M.

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