“The Sound of Music” (1965) was the big Oscar winner in 1966, taking home five Academy Awards out of ten nominations. Today, most people can sing at least parts of its well-known songs, including “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things,” although few are likely to want to sit through it at nearly three hours long. Despite being hated by critics like Pauline Kael and David Thomson, “The Sound of Music” remains a sentimental favorite with many people, but both perspectives deserve some consideration. The movie has its merits, but it also has many flaws, most of them products of the era in which it and its Broadway original were produced.
Julie Andrews plays postulant nun Maria, a problem child at the convent where she lives. Hoping to give her a chance to consider life in the outside world, the Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) sends Maria to work as a governess to the seven children of widower Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). Although the Captain is engaged with a wealthy Baroness (Eleanor Parker), he and Maria soon develop feelings for one another, but the arrival of the Nazis in Austria threatens their newfound happiness and their family’s freedom.
The movie is at its best when it focuses on the adult characters, especially the romantic triangle between Maria, the Captain, and the Baroness. The opportunistic Max (Richard Haydn) is also fun, a perfect foil to the cloistered, holy nuns. In the convent, Peggy Wood and Anna Lee both make memorable appearances, and the scene in which the nuns sabotage the Nazis’ cars is a highlight. Although many of the adult performers are dubbed for their musical numbers, the songs themselves are mostly winners, especially “Climb Every Mountain” and “Edelweiss,” which, sentimental as it may be, is used much like the French national anthem in “Casablanca” (1942). Of course, Julie Andrews gives a beautiful vocal performance in all of her songs, although her character in “Mary Poppins” (1964) is more interesting.
Unfortunately, “The Sound of Music” also suffers from the bloat that plagued musicals throughout the era, especially the movie productions of the 1960s. Taking a firm “more is more” approach to these road show spectacles, Hollywood stuffed its pictures with more songs, more set pieces, more cute children and/or animals, and more characters, but the movies often sink under their own weight, especially when modern viewers come back to them with a lower tolerance for such oversized entertainments. “The Sound of Music” is too long by at least an hour, especially with the second half relying mostly on repeated songs. Those seven Von Trapp children can be a lot to take, although Liesl (Charmian Carr) is the most overused of the group, and her puppy love subplot does little to enhance the overall film. Director Robert Wise might also be too much in love with his exterior establishing shots, which belong more to an Austrian travel documentary than a musical narrative.
If you have the patience and palate for 1960s movie musicals, you might also enjoy “My Fair Lady” (1964), “Doctor Dolittle” (1967), “Camelot” (1967), and “Hello, Dolly!” (1969). See more of Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins” (1964), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (1967), and “Victor Victoria” (1982). The versatile Robert Wise also directed “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “The Haunting” (1963), and “West Side Story” (1961). After a long career in film and television, Christopher Plummer finally won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2012 for his performance in “Beginners” (2011).
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