For about 5 years The Sound of Music was the highest grossing film of all time. It was a phenomenon back in the day, besting the box office record held for 25 years by Gone With the Wind. It’s still a touchstone film and a treasure of pop culture moments. I hadn’t actually seen it in full from beginning to end until the last few years, yet I seemed to know the story intimately. I even knew the lyrics to most of the songs. Such is the penetration of this movie into our public consciousness.
The Sound of Music (1965) dir. Robert Wise
Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer
By Alan Bacchus
It’s an elegant heartwarming family film, one of the best 'Disney' movies Disney never made. Based on the real story of the Austrian von Trapp singing family of seven children, their father and their stepmother who escape their Nazi-infested homeland. But the actual escape is really just a suspenseful climax to an endearing story of family, motherhood and love between two polar opposite people.
The matriarch of the von Trapp is Maria (Julie Andrews), whom we see in the opening as an absent-minded nun who’d rather spend time singing songs on top of the glorious green hills around her quaint village in the Alps than be on time for her prayers. Her fellow nuns recognize her infectious personality is not really suited to a nunery. Instead she gets assigned as the new governess (an elaborate term for ‘nanny’) to the aristocrat and recent widower Captain Georg Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). The rub is that Captain has seven children whose aggressive activities have scared off all other previous candidates.
Of course Maria is resolute and warm and makes a great impression despite the children’s attempts to break her. Captain is different though. The death of his wife has hardened him and he had reverted to a military-like authority within the house. But Maria warms him up too with song and dance, and eventually they fall in love. When one of Captain’s colleagues discovers the musical talents of the children, he books them to perform at a local concert, something which Captain continues to forbid. But as the Nazi’s encroach on their lands, Captain realizes his country and lifestyle are in danger and he engineers a daring and risky escape at the concert.
Andrews exhibits such magnetism. It's that Shirley Temple, Natalie Wood and Julia Roberts type of magnetism that lights up a room, or in this case, a cinema. Christopher Plummer is a fine actor too, and he has a different kind of stage presence. Captain von Trapp is characterized rather obviously as a stuck-up old widower with a pickle up his ass, and Plummer's change to a smitten love-struck young man is a great transition. Though a born Canadian, he wears the skin of an Austrian aristocrat with a British accent so well. And he can sing. Who can forget the romantically patriotic Edelwiess song he plucks away during the final concert in the faces of the nasty Nazis in the front row?
As mentioned, these songs, which feel like a Hollywood national anthem of sorts, are so familiar: Edelweiss, My Favouite Things, So Long Farewell, Do-Re-Mi and, of course, the opening ditty in which we see Ms. Andrews belting out, "The Hills are Alive With the Sound of Music!". In fact, I can’t think of a grander introduction to a character on film than Ms. Andrews' introduction in this moment. It comes after Robert Wise’s long helicopter journey takes us across the impossibly beautiful mountaintops of the Alps before finding Maria on top of her grassy hill singing her heart out.
On Blu-ray Ms. Andrews looks amazing and so does Wise’s absolutely perfect compositions. The real-world on-location scenes shot in Austria, Bavaria and other fabulous places in Europe ring out with great authenticity. And remember this film was shot on 70mm as well, making everything extra crisp. You don’t even need to go past the first song to see the pictorial perfection. Just watch the clouds in the background, the formation of which are pastoral, exquisite and just the right shape to create the perfect composition complementing the green mountaintop and Ms. Andrews’ position on it.
Next to a 70mm big-screen revival, the Blu-ray makes for the next best reason to watch this film once again.
The Sound of Music is available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.