Why is it, of all the movies I have or have not seen, the one that always drew the most shock was The Sound of Music? Even my students, people who generally have barely heard of any movie over 20 years old, react the same way. Is the movie that universally beloved?
Well, everyone except for Christopher Plummer seems to love it now, I know that much.
Plummer’s thinking, which he has stated many times over the years, is The Sound of Music is actually awful and sentimental. Oh, he does say the film is good, but he had a hard time making it apparently. It’s not hard to see why. Plummer plays the stiff Captain von Trapp, a retired naval captain and widower who runs his household like he ran a military vessel. He has seven children, two boys (one of whom grew up to be Spider-Man) and five girls, and he needs a governess.
Of course, we learn all this after we meet Maria, a failing nun nobody seems to know what to do about. They sing a whole song about it and everything. She’s late for everything but meals, she’s inclined to goofing off, and a whole assortment of things that would make her delightful company but a lousy nun. As it is, the Mother Superior has the perfect place for her: governess to the von Trapp children.
Can a lively free spirit played by the generally delightful Julie Andrews win over the kids and their stuffy old dad and then escape the Nazis?
You know, between this and Raiders of the Lost Ark, I am really starting to wonder why so many of these family-friendly adventures that may or may not involve singing have so darn many Nazis in them.
I am also wondering why so many musicals have three hour runtimes.
Never mind. If I play that game, I’ll wonder why the von Trapps try to escape the Nazis by traveling East out of Austria, which would put them right into Germany.
So, here’s the thing about The Sound of Music: even though I have never seen the movie from start to finish before, something like 90% of the songs sounded very familiar. I knew the eldest von Trapp was 16 going on 17, that the convent didn’t know what to do about Maria, and all about how a doe is a deer, a female deer. These songs have entered the popular culture, such that even if you’ve never heard the Rodgers and Hammerstein music before, you still know the work. Heck, I’ve seen at least two Family Guy episodes that used songs from this film for gags.
As such, I don’t know what I can bring to the table. This is a musical where the songs both advance the plot and are a feature. The von Trapps sing to entertain other people. It becomes their salvation when the Nazis show up and expect Captain von Trapp to go back to the navy for them. If anything, this may be the happiest form of Nazi resistance I’ve ever seen. The von Trapps are an energetic bunch, singing the days away while Nazis take over the country, including the oldest girl’s love interest.
Which means I should probably say something about Julie Andrews.
Julie Andrews is basically known for two roles: this and Mary Poppins, and while both act as nannies/governesses for some children whose father can’t be bothered to pay enough attention to them, the two governesses could not be more different. Maria is a bouncy, energetic, happy young woman who is just as comfortable romping with the kids, falling into a river after a boating accident, making play clothes out of her employer’s drapes, and generally just being fun. Mary Poppins is many things, but “fun” may not be the best word to describe her temperament. It is true children seem to have fun with Mary Poppins, but she’s a much sterner person, someone who insists on cleaning up a room before going outside, and I don’t think for an instant she would ever dream of cutting up someone else’s curtains for play clothes. Mary is magical in that magical things happen in her presence. Maria is magical in that she delights everyone she meets.
Maybe it’s because it is a musical, but Captain von Trapp’s sort of love interest steps out of the way fairly gracefully before Maria even realizes her employer is in love with her. And sure, the Captain may argue with Maria about what his children are supposed to do, but even he will break into song the minute he hears them singing for his guests., Song has power in The Sound of Music. It can provide cover to escape from Austria, win over a stern father to be warmer to his children and his future wife, and even turn a bunch of unruly children into what might be called band geeks by the less forgiving.
The sound of music is magical in this picturesque part of Austria, and it can be just as magical for audiences looking for something that it’s lead actor called sentimental goop. He isn’t wrong, but sometimes you need some sentimental goop.
NEXT UP: Let’s stick to Germany in war, but not the one we generally think of first as we look at 1930’s All Queit on the Western Front.