Film Review: The Sound of Music (1965)



Croatian city of Zadar has long and rich history, but when asked about most famous people who were born or lived there, few would mention Captain Georg von Trapp (1880-1947), despite his importance for the history of popular culture in 20th Century. Initially he earned his place in history books due to his service as Austro-Hungarian Navy during World War I, where he excelled as top submarine ace. It was during his post-war civilian life, when he lived on an estate near Salzburg, when he, with a help of children’s governess and future wife Maria Kutschera, discovered musical talent that would make von Trapps singing sensation in 1930s Europe. Their career was brutally cut short by Hitler's annexation of Austria. Von Trapp, a passionate anti-Nazi, was forced to leave his homeland, and his family continued their career in America.

After her husband's death, Maria von Trapp wrote a book about their adventures, which became a bestseller, was adapted into a popular West German film, The Trapp Family," in 1956, and most importantly, into the iconic 1959 Broadway musical The Sound of Music, written by legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Like many ultra-popular Broadway musicals, this one was also adapted for the big screen, but few could have predicted that 1965 film would become the most popular and the most successful musical film of all time.

The plot is set in 1938 in Salzburg. It begins with Maria (played by Julie Andrews), a free-spirited young woman who studies to become Catholic nun at Nonnberg Abbey. The Mother Superior (played by Peggy Wood) thinks that her character would be better suited if she is to work as governess for seven children of Captain von Trapp (played by Christopher Plummer), widowed former officer of Austro-Hungarian Navy. Maria quickly wins over children, discovers their music talent and, ultimately, wins Captain’s heart and marries him. Their bliss is, however, short-lived due to Nazi takeover, which forces family to take dangerous trek over border.

The Sound of Music almost immediately entered history books by its unprecedented commercial success, reflected in dethroning Gone of the Wind as Hollywood’s most popular film after quarter of century, and holding that record for a decade, until George Lucas’ original Star Wars. The film's triumph, which is also reflected in its numerous "Oscars, can be explained in many ways. Robert Wise, who won an "Oscar" for his direction, was one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation, just like screenwriter Carl Lehman, who skillfully resolved the problems of adapting the stage play. The film represents a compromise between glamour and glitz of Classic Hollywood and emerging trends New Hollywood, which drew the best from both worlds—spectacular scenes from Hollywood studios were seamlessly integrated into scenes shot on authentic and charming Austrian alpine locations. The iconic "Do-Re-Mi" sequence, in which Maria teaches the children the basics of music, is a prime example, with Wise's dynamic camerawork and William Reynolds' seamless editing creating a joyous, kinetic sequence that perfectly encapsulates the film's spirit. The technical aspects of the film are equally impressive, with Ted McCord's lush cinematography, Dorothy Jeakins' impeccable costume design, and Irwin Kostal's masterful musical arrangements all contributing to the film's overall sense of grandeur.

The film's musical numbers, directed by Wise using an innovative approach that could be called a precursor to modern music videos, work well, among other things, due to the immense vocal and acting talent of Julie Andrews, who played Maria von Trapp and is most famous for her role in a long and illustrious career, but also responsible for the stereotype of the saccharine heroine she was plagued ever since. She easily overshadows Christopher Plummer, who famously disliked the film, calling it “The Sound of Mucus”, but who nevertheless delivers strong performance and has chemistry with Andrews.

The Sound of Music has, despite a few but fierce criticisms claiming that the film was a escapist fairy tale, managed to remain one of the most beloved films of all time. Even those who generally do not like Hollywood musicals should watch the film, at least to see whom citizens of Zadar should consider to be among their favourite sons.

RATING: 9/10 (++++)

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