The Sound of Music (1965) Review

The Sound of Music (1965) Review

The Sound of Music (1965)
Directors: Robert Wise
Screenwriters: Ernest Lehman
Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmain Carr, Heather Menzies, Angela Cartwright, Kym Karath, Duane Chase, Eleanor Parker, Nicholas Hammond, Debbie Turner, Peggy Wood, Richard Haydn, Daniel Truhitte, Ben Wright, Anna Lee, Portia Nelson, Norma Varden, Dorothy Jeakins, Marni Nixon

The Sound of Music has undoubtedly become a timeless classic for musical lovers and filmgoers alike. It boasts many reasons to be memorable, as it has become a pop-culture cornerstone and reference point for all ages and audience types. To only give a small list of reasons why, having Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the lead roles and a score from the eponymous theatrical duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II make this piece stand the test of time, a feat noted by the American Film Institution in 1998 when they named it the fifty-fifth greatest film of all time, and the fourth greatest movie musical to ever be made. It garnered various notorious award wins. Of these were five Academy Awards (for Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Wise, along with Best Sound, Best Film Editing and Best Score), two Golden Globe Award wins (for Best Actress and Best Motion Picture), a Director’s Guild of America Award for Outstanding Achievement, and a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical. In 2001, The Sound of Music received an entry into the National Film Registry, being preserved by the American Congress for its ‘aesthetic or cultural significance’.

Before being iterated as a film, The Sound of Music was a well-known Broadway musical. It opened on November 16th, 1959, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, subsequently moving to the Mark Hellinger Theatre where it closed after 1,433 performances on June 15th 1963. It was the last musical written by eight-time Tony winner Oscar Hammerstein, as nine months after the Broadway premiere, he died of stomach cancer. The story tells of Maria, a postulant who is training to be a nun. She is assigned to a governess post with a Naval Captain, Georg Vonn Trapp, and his family of seven children. Maria and Georg fall in love, and Maria teaches the children to sing. They then seek to escape Nazi rule on foot through the mountains out of Austria.

Actor Christopher Plummer, who played Captain Georg Von Trapp, is noted as referring to his time on the film (and the film itself) as “the sound of mucus”. Renowned film critic Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian likens its charm to “radioactive dairy cream”, which is certainly a very entertaining take. The review that best encapsulates what this film does to most audiences, though, is from James Powers’ article for The Hollywood Reporter: “It restores your faith in movies. If you sit quietly and let it take, it may also restore your faith in humanity. It does this with infectious wit, with consistent gaiety, with simple and realistic spirituality, with romance of heartbreak and heartmend”. One thing that most online takes have in common is the praise of Julie Andrews and a collective nod to the score and directorial talent of Robert Wise. It could be said that this trifecta is what keeps viewers coming back to this piece, despite several claims of its ‘saccharine sweetness’.

Robert Wise shows his deft command of directing in The Sound of Music. As a director, one of Wise’s techniques is the use of soft focus, seen at its most exquisite when Maria holds her hands to her face after dancing the ländler with Captain Von Trapp. Additionally, Wise’s use of deep-focus techniques allows for a sharp focus on both foreground and background subjects in the frame. This was a staple of the films he directed, including Oscars Best Picture winner West Side Story (1961). He was a director known for adapting stage productions, but also for focusing on life stories (or fictionalised versions of real lives). He would win the Academy Award for Best Director at the 1966 Oscars, being awarded for his work above David Lean (Doctor Zhivago), John Schlesinger (Darling), and William Wyler (The Collector), which solidified his reputation of being able to direct in different film genres at the very top of the craft. The Sound of Music sits towards the end of his filmography but is still one of his most notable credits. Following this film, one of the most notorious of his works would be Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) which, like The Sound of Music, earned him a nomination for his work as a director.

Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer lead the cast with their animated but believable performances. Julie Andrews balances the care-free spirit of Maria with her pensive moments, particularly when she returns to the Abbey after realising her feelings for Georg. Through Maria, Julie Andrews is able to ooze charisma whilst helping the children and their father heal from the loss of a key figure in their lives. Christopher Plummer embodies the high-walled, heart-of-gold widowed father. His argument for pushing Maria away as well as being attracted to her comes across as wholly believable, and despite his frosty outlook, the love he has for his children shines through. In their scenes together, both Andrews and Plummer are grounded, resulting in character interactions and a chemistry that leaves us rooting for them to get together. In light of the fact that Georg has to leave the Baroness in order to pursue Maria, and Maria has to leave the life she originally envisioned for herself at the Abbey, both actors bring the script and songs to life, highlighting the inevitability of their love story.

For a film of this type, the costumes are of course important, and in The Sound of Music they are memorable and well-crafted. The costumes interact with the landscapes and sets to provide a window into the atmosphere and time period. For example, in the opening song, Maria’s grey-and-black pinafore dress starkly contrasts with the lush greenery of the Austrian mountains. Maria feels very at home in nature, as the song expresses, but this colour palette contrasts with the dark colours of her postulant uniform to provide exposition into Maria’s struggles with settling in at the Abbey. Towards the end of the first act, the Baroness is dressed in an opulent gold asymmetrical one-sleeve form-fitting ball-gown. It matches the luxurious gold decor of the lower floor of the Von Trapp mansion but creates a very obvious contrast with Maria’s simple traditional Austrian dress. The gentle floral details on the skirt and sleeve of Maria’s dress indicate her down-to-earth nature and her loving but working-class roots. On the other hand, the Baroness’ dress shows the high-end world she comes from and highlights that she was raised in glamour, and intends to carry on living with her glamorous pretences. In other words, the differences in their costumes indicate their differences in personalities and beliefs, and particularly the reasons Georg is attracted to them both: Elsa Schraeder represents the social circle he currently lives in and that society has taught him to value, whereas Maria represents the love and innocence at his core that he wants to cultivate into his family life. In summary, The Sound of Music’s costumes help to effectively bring out the essences of the characters’ personalities and acclimatise us to pre-World War II Austria. Similar to the Cecil Beaton-designed costuming for My Fair Lady (1964), Dorothy Jeakins helps us to feel like we have an understanding of the characters and their homeland.

The nation of Austria is its own character in The Sound of Music. It may not be ‘dressed’, per se, but the mountains, rivers and city landscapes provide a backdrop to the development of this family musical story. The outdoors show how Austria, and particularly its natural landscapes, serve to be the source of happy memories and freedom, but also the country’s backbone. In contrast, the indoor locations illustrate how people presented themselves on a personal level, and go further to express them on an outer ‘social’ level too. The Abbey generally has a dark palette with pictures of Jesus, the result being that religious figures become the brighter, or more vibrantly coloured, focus points of the shots. When Maria tells Mother Abbess that she is falling in love with Captain Von Trapp and is told that “the love between a man and a woman is holy too”, the portrait of Jesus on the cross attracts the eye and there are flashes of bright yellow light from the windows. Not only does the gold adorning on the religious portraits complement the bright light, but the use of the hue itself likens us to see that hope and happiness are surfacing for the outlook of Maria and the Captain’s relationship. These aspects encourage us to be moved, with the use of cinematographic elements and set design culminating in an apparent depth of meaning throughout the film.

It is possible to claim that The Sound of Music’s lead protagonists Maria and the Captain are the pinnacle of ‘the sunshine and the grump’ romance trope. Maria is a free-spirited, go-where-the-wind-takes-you type of person. Georg Von Trapp is more of a stiff-upper-lip and tight-buttoned kind of guy. Deep down he is a sweetheart, but the abyss of grief and his naval roots mean that he has an extra tight grip on his children. His overprotectiveness means that he identifies his children throughout the house with a personalised whistle call, something that Maria detests, claiming that it should ‘only be used for dogs and cats’. It’s why they clash initially, but also why their blossoming love story ends up becoming so sweet. The dynamic of their love story can be compared to that of Princess Anne and Joe Bradley in 1953’s Roman Holiday. Georg lets Maria into his world, and he changes the course of her life through his positive influence on her, just as happens in reverse in William Wyler’s classic released a decade earlier. Their connection strengthens throughout the film and the takeaway leaves you believing that despite their radically different life circumstances, they have left an imprint on the course of each other’s lives. This kind of relationship has now become relatively normalised in modern romantic comedy films, like in When Harry Met Sally which deals with the age-old question of men and women not being able to stay platonically linked without sex getting in the way. Fellow Oscar-winning musical La La Land furthers this trope, and is one of just a number of examples where storytellers have borrowed from the dynamic The Sound of Music perfected to their own award-winning means.

The songs are in a class of their own and speak (well, technically sing) for themselves. As expected, there are many memorable tunes to take away from this film. Throughout the years, many of the songs have become earworms at the worst of times and radio or car-playlist staples at the best of times. The score was composed by smash-hit musical theatre duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The combination of Rodgers’s music and Hammerstein’s lyrics has created notability on several occasions in the charts. Firstly, through the fact that the soundtrack to The Sound of Music was the best-selling album in the United Kingdom in 1965, 1966 and 1968. Subsequently, it became the second best-selling album of the decade, with a total of 70 weeks spent in the Number 1 spot on the UK Albums Chart. The soundtrack enables people to find the film year after year, whilst encouraging those who love the film to return to its well-known themes time and time again. This is the case with many great musicals as they are well-loved by many generations. The plot being well-acted, plus the picture-perfect scenery accompanying the story, permits a relaxing and dynamic sing-along viewing.

So, the question begs: how to summarise The Sound of Music? It is very sweet and does give in to several cliches of the genre, and of musicals themselves, but it is very well made. The songs are composed by a heavyweight of the genre and performed well by seasoned musical actors. The costumes are fit to serve multiple purposes and stay in the minds of viewers old and young as a pinnacle of this time period. Additionally, the script is romantic and comforting yet incorporates biographical elements of the family’s World War II escape through a reprise of “Climb Every Mountain”. Regarding the creative team for this film, it is made up of many Hollywood Golden age pioneers, many of whom contributed to cementing movie musicals as a pillar in this era of cinema.

All in all, this film is a memorable gem for the ages that never loses its staying power on even the fiftieth rewatch.

Score: 22/24

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Alannah Purslow

You can support Alannah Purslow at the following links:

X (Twitter): @_alannahjade_
Linked In: Alannah Purslow

Scroll to Top