Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Sound of Music (1965)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection.

It's no secret I love movies about nannies (au pairs, governesses, whatever) since I grew up with one (the greatest lady in the world, she is). Between The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews was one of my favorite people as a kid. She's just so magical and musical and caregiving! In this sugary classic she stars as Maria, an effervescent almost-nun who is essentially kicked out of her Austrian convent for singing and hiking too much. She is assigned to be a governess for the nearby Von Trapp family, headed by a stern widower Captain (Christopher Plummer) who orders his seven children about like soldiers. Maria uses all her magic singing powers to teach everyone about love and dancing and such. Meanwhile World War II is about to happen.

In many ways The Sound of Music is the anti-feelbad WWII movie, since most of it focuses on the love story and family fun times leading up to the Nazi invasion of Austria. Even once the Nazis get there, Captain Von Trapp is all "I love Austria. FUCK NAZIS" and then he and his family get away by Climbing Every Mountain and in real life they have a fruitful music career in the States. (This is based on a true story, you know.) The last half hour or so feels unconnected to the preceding 2.5 hours, with its action-packed getaway and depressing reality, but there are plenty of hints early on as villainous possible Nazi-sympathizers move in and out of the family's fancy estate.

I love this movie. It's the perfect family film, with fun songs and goofy moments for kids and a compelling romance and historical setting for adults. Everything is slightly simplified but not overtly so, and there are certain things I appreciated more as a child and others I understand better now as an adult. Julie Andrews is almost sickly sweet but I love her so much it doesn't matter, especially because she uses her goodness in some underhanded and clever ways at times. Plus I like her cute bob haircut. Plummer allegedly hated working on this movie and he is a bit of a sourpuss the whole time, but I love his rendition of "Edelweiss", a song that makes me sad for absolutely no reason and isn't even an Austrian folk song so its effect is completely manufactured. I like all the kids, surprisingly, possibly because they look like they're having so much fun in curtain clothes.

The Sound of Music is certainly dated in some ways- from its schmaltzy script to its somewhat sugarcoated/reductionist view of Germany's annexation of Austria- but keeping the focus on Maria and her relationship with this troubled family gives it a heartfelt, genuine feeling that is only increased with the excellent tunes from Rogers and Hammerstein. It's long as hell but never boring, carefully developing its central characters while throwing in historical references, stunning vistas, and musical numbers to keep the pace lively. Watching it now I wonder what all these British people are doing in Salzburg in the 1930's, but that never fazed me before so I guess it's not a problem now.

The main negative thing that really stuck out to me this time around was how ridiculously romantic comedy-esque the character of the Baroness is. She's all manipulative and amoral, planning to send the kids off to boarding school after she cons her way into marrying the captain for his money. She like the lady in The Parent Trap and also a billion other movies. It's just an unnecessary subplot that detracts from the otherwise positive characterization, and by now it comes off as cliche.


Pair This Movie With: Well like I said earlier I usually identify this with Andrews' other 60's nanny musical, Mary Poppins. Or if you want to set it against a non-cheery vision of WWII in Austria, I thought The Counterfeiters was quite good.


  1. Beautiful Movie. I have it on DVD and usually find myself breezing through the songs pretty often.

  2. Haha yes love this movie too and I think it's the greatest musical of all time. We have had this on a lot at our house as my two daughters are in love with it after we showed it to them 2 weeks ago. They watch it in 30 minute segments. They are 4 and 2. They run around the house saying cuckoo, cuckoo. It's way too cute.