Movie version with Julie Andrews tops the stage original
By Kaspar Monahan
Call it “schmaltzy,” call it sentimental, but do not call it anything else but entertaining. For “The Sound of Music,” thanks to superior handling and affectionate care, has made the tricky transition from stage to screen with all its virtues intact. If anything, there is an extra glow of magic to this operetta in its movie offspring.
That extra glow emanates from radiant Julie Andrews as the postulant nun who, on temporary leave from Nonnburg Abbey, finds romance, excitement and danger in the outside world — mainly that of Salzburg and fairy tale environs.
And “fairy tale” fits this musical, despite the fact that its story is based on actual fact — the escape of this nervy girl and her adopted family: a widower and his seven children, fleeing the Nazis when they invaded Austria in the infamous “Anschluss” proclaimed by Hitler in the late 30s.
Fairy tale characters
There is a misty, never-never-land quality to “Sound of Music,” so to judge it from the literal, realistic viewpoint would be downright unfair.
The Baron Von Trapp is simply the Prince in light disguise, his children so many mischievous elves, the German military the inhuman fire-breathing monster. And Maria (Julie) — well, a sort of fairy queen on hand to work her magic spell and in the end to save them all.
The unlimited scope of the color movie cameras, of course, permits scenes of outdoor action — and vistas of snow-clad peaks, green-clad hills, flowering meadows and shimmering lakes, and the coming of the jackbooted invaders to disrupt the serenity of Salzburg and begin a reign of terror.
The music, lyrics superb
Through it all thread the melodies of Richard Rodgers and the fetching lyrics of the late Oscar Hammerstein II. A few of the original songs have been eliminated for two new ones by Rodgers — “I Have Confidence In Me” and “Something Good.” While they are not up to the Hammerstein-Rodgers collaborations, they are “listenable” and serve to keep the story moving along.
My own favorite of the rich array are “Do Re Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “So Long, Farewell,” the haunting “Edelweiss,” the latter coming near the end of the picture as the Von Trapps and Maria — now the bride of the Baron — are preparing to flee the hemmed-in city into neighboring Switzerland. If they stay Baron Von Trapp, a reserve naval captain, faces conscription by the Nazis.
Christopher Plummer at the outset is stiff and cold as the widower, forcing military discipline on his children, even blowing a whistle to bring them into line. To this stately, castle-like household, the young Maria brings music and joy — and love. And the icy reserve of the Baron melts.
The cast is a good one, although some of the children are a bit too coy and cute. Eleanor Parker is an eye-full as the rich Baroness who would wed the not unwilling Baron, although his offspring take a dim view of her.
Richard Haydn is fine as the Baron’s closest friend and adviser; Peggy Wood most gracious as the Mother Abbess, the only person who thoroughly understands the fun-loving Maria; Charmian Carr, beautiful, but looking several years older than her supposed 16.
Robert Wise — and that name is no misnomer — recruited the same team which performed so nobly for him in “West Side Story” for the making of “Sound of Music.” The show ends as the family flees over the mountain tops — toward America where they became famous on our concert stages as the Von Trapp Singers.