I have watched “The Sound of Music” numerous times as a young kid. After childhood though, I only have seen bits and pieces. When I heard of its 45th anniversary, I thought about watching its entirety for old time’s sake. But frankly, I was afraid to see it with a critical eye. I heard it described as one of the worst “Best Picture” winners. I seriously don’t want to taint a fond childhood memory.
Fortunately, my thoughts of doom and gloom withered within seconds. The film begins with a breathtaking aerial view of the Alps. Talk about a pick-me-up. “The Sound of Music” literally starts on top and the energy picks up as the film descends onto the hills. And then behold, there’s Julie Andrews preparing for her iconic twirl and sing “The Sound of Music.” My ability to critique came tumbling down and I just wanted to sit back and watch in awe like I have done in the past.
The musical centers on Maria (Julie Andrews), a nun-to-be who seems too wild and spirited to live a monastic life. Her Mother Superior pushes her out into the world, by sending her out to be a governess to a Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) and his seven children. She seems at odds at first. She finds the Captain strict and emotionally distant. The children, though appearing to be disciplined, are unruly pranksters. Like the governesses who preceded her, it seems like Maria’s tenure is short-lived. But ah, with her plucky charm and irresistible voice, she will eventually win them over.
Not surprisingly, I was won over too. Could it be that Julie Andrews was my first cinematic crush? She gives a sensational performance for the ages. She’s not just anybody. The short haired and tomboyish Maria can be adventurous, a flibbertigibbet, a natural spirit. Other times, she is a woman, a nurturing presence. I was envious of the kids on the screen. I too wanted to be comforted during the storm. I too wanted to run around, exposed to the beautiful things the world has to offer. And darn it, even if I was no singer, how badly did I want to belong in a harmonious group like the Von Trapp family.
The songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein are the best collection I’ve heard from a movie musical. They are melodiously stirring and have grown into beloved classics – “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to name a few. Even the less popular ones are no less stellar. I remember hearing “I Have Confidence” before a job interview and it was just as great as a pump-me-up as “Eye of the Tiger.” In fact, the songs are so so good that it didn’t matter that the movie lacked a first-rate choreography, an element exhibited in other great musicals like “West Side Story” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” Look close at the “Do-re-mi” sequence and you’ll see simple movements such as marching, running, and hopping on steps. And yet this section is one of the most ebullient and youthful scenes ever captured on cinema.
If I am going to nitpick, I find the second half of the movie less magical. There is less music and less humor as serious plot complications hung over the characters. But stepping back and looking at the overall composition, it’s good that the film plays out a variety of notes, from comedy and romance to drama and suspense. It’s a testament to director Robert Wise’s staging that “The Sound of Music” can cover such range. And for its timeless feel and look, the movie owes gratitude to Todd McCord, the cinematographer who milks the Austrian scenery for all its worth. Heck, the film is so gorgeously shot that I never knew the depth of the Nazi malice until I saw “Schindler’s List.” How many family films out there can introduce you to the Nazi Party and still keep you innocent?
I’m happy that the movie has aged well before my eyes. In the future, it might serve well as a balloon when adulthood weighs me down towards sarcasm and irascibility. God knows the human spirit has the natural urge to sing and twirl now and then. “The Sound of Music” – one of the few of my favorite things.
Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr, Nicholas Hammond, Heather Menzies, Angela Cartwright, Duane Chase, Angela Cartwright, Debbie Turner, Kym Karath, Daniel Truhitte, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn, and Peggy Wood
Based on the musical by
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II