Directed By: Robert Wise
Written By: Ernest Lehman (Based on the story of Maria von Trapp and the musical composed Rodgers and Hammerstein II)
Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer
The first review in this series is of the undoubted cinematic face of 1965, Robert Wise’s adaptation of the same named Broadway musical The Sound of Music. This was not only the eventual choice by the Academy for Best Picture, picking up four other Oscars along the way including Best Director, but it also dethroned Gone With the Wind as the highest grossing film of all time. This is one of the most decorated films in history, and whilst I am completely aware that a review of this movie in 2016 is redundant, I’m doing it anyway.
We are in 1938 Salzburg Austria and the story details a young, prospective, nun’s days as the governess of a retired naval officer’s seven children after she is sent from her abbey in the hope that a change of scenery will better accommodate her free spirited, slightly rebellious ways. Julie Andrews plays governess Maria and Christopher Plummer is the ex-naval officer Captain Georg von Trapp who watches over Maria in a brew of bewilderment, affection, disapproval and charm as she builds a relationship with the seditious children with Austria’s looming Nazi annexation lurking in the background.
It’d be impossible for one’s first observation of this film to not be its photography. It opens with beautiful panoramic sweeps of the hilly and mountainous Salzburg. The colours, the lush greens of the hills, the glistening blues of the sky and canyons absolutely pop and the photography by Ted D. McCord completely justifies the scenery as a beacon of hope and peace as it is for Maria, whilst also lending the film an immediate sense of enchantment. I’ll be damned if those hills aren’t truly alive. Most pertinent in a film like this is of course the music and Richard Rodger’s and Oscar Hammerstein II’s songs range from incredibly cute to subtly poignant (you’ve heard them all before) and go perfectly with the landscapes. Julie Andrews certainly seems like the only woman for the job, bringing a school girl curiosity, imagination and outspokenness to her character while Christopher Plummer also has a fun turn as a father whose default setting as a strict military man is being challenged by his inherent warmth and kindheartedness.
All this whimsy tends towards a Disney-esque look at family and it also means that the film, particularly in its first two hours, borders on being saccharine. Its irrepressibly happy-go-lucky demeanour is most evident in Andrews’ interactions with the children, full of clichéd sights, including a curl up in bed as thunder sounds, and is complete with a slapstick eight person tumble out of a row boat. And through all the sugar this film is one of extreme simplicity. There isn’t a great deal of anything to entice your intellect as the film is almost entirely occupied with a family loving each other for just under three hours. But in the end it will win you over with sheer good will alone. Its heart is so firmly in the right place that it’s next to impossible to not find yourself somewhat aligned with the von Trapp clan. And when the film made its dramatic shift in the final act I was right there with the family, my empathy spiking.
Overly simplistic? Absolutely. Cheesy? Of course. But affectless? No way known.
It was a safe horse for the Academy to back fifty years ago, and it was by no means a bad horse to back.