Nuns, Nazis, and clothes made out of curtains…the musical!
Adapted from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical (based on the memoir “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” by Maria von Trapp), The Sound of Music tells the tale of Maria (Julie Andrews) a free-spirited young Austrian nun postulant in Salzburg in 1938. Maria is sent to the villa of a widowed, retired naval officer (Christopher Plummer) to be governess to his seven children. Music, dancing and love ensues and it’s one of our favorite things.
The Sound of Music is one of the biggest box office blockbusters of all time. Just four weeks after its theatrical release, it became the number one movie in the country. Films weren’t widely released across America in those days so hitting #1 with just 25 theaters at a time showing 10 shows a week is pretty impressive. But it was just getting started. It stayed at number one for thirty of the next forty-three weeks and finished as the highest-grossing film of 1965.
People saw it in droves and they saw it again and again and again. In some cities there were more tickets sold than there were people.
The Sound of Music stayed in theaters for four-and-a-half years. Four and a half years! During that run it made more than $68 million in the US and another $44 million overseas making it the first film to gross over $100 million worldwide.
When it was all said and done The Sound of Music earned more than $158 million in the US alone. Adjusted for inflation that’s about $1.25 billion (with a B) making it the third highest-grossing film of all time behind only Gone with the Wind and Star Wars.
Apparently everyone alive since 1965 has seen this, so odds are you already know the story. Maria arrives at the home of Capt. Georg Von Trapp, a strict disciplinarian to find his mischievous children in dire need of a healthy dose of fun, laughter and singing. Since the death of the Captain’s wife the sound of music that once filled their home has disappeared. Maria breathes life back into the family and she and the Captain fall in love.
All of this unfolds on the backdrop of the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. After Georg and Maria are married the Nazi’s order him to return to military service. Knowing he has no choice in the matter he and the family use the Salzburg Music Festival as an opportunity to stage a daring escape.
I’ve seen the film and Broadway show, and although the stage production is good, I much prefer the film. It made some changes that I felt were improvements to the story. Ernest Lehman’s script is really tight. It’s one of the two exceptions* I have to my “best picture winners must be screenplay nominees” rule. It was tough to figure out how to evaluate the script for a musical. I don’t think it was the best of the year but it probably should have been nominated.
The entire sequence from the time Capt. Von Trapp returns with Baroness Schraeder through the confrontation between he and Maria to the children singing the title song joined by their father followed by his asking her to stay is brilliant, powerful and truly moving.
And Baroness Schraeder’s reaction to Maria and the Georg falling for each other is so honest and smartly written.
Ted McCord’s cinematography is strikingly good and the location shoot gives the film a much grander feel than other “stagy” movie musicals like West Side Story or My Fair Lady. I never felt like I was watching a play. Scenic helicopter shots through the Alps will do that. I can only imagine if this was shot today with modern drone camera technology how even better it would look. But in 1965 this must have been breathtaking.
Some of it was accidental, at least in the case of the iconic gazebo scene with Maria and Georg.
The story goes that the lights used inside the gazebo were making strange noises and Julie Andrews kept giggling during the romantic scene. So in a stroke of inspired improvisation they took down the lights and shot the scene in silhouette.
Going into the 38th Annual Academy Awards Julie Andrews was the reigning best actress winner having taken home gold the year before for Mary Poppins. Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins are such vastly different characters. Her work in this film really showcases her talent and acting range. However she didn’t win back-to-back Oscars, losing to Julie Christie in the British drama Darling. But that certainly doesn’t diminish her legacy, especially if you ask my wife.
Between The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins Julie Andrews is pretty much the Queen Mother in our home.
Sure, there’s The Princess Diaries and some animated voice work but the legend of Julie Andrews hangs almost exclusively on the two films she did in 1964 and 1965. But really, as great as those films are, and as remarkable as she was in both of them, what more do you need?
Doctor Zhivago and The Sound of Music were the top two films at the box office that year. Each received 10 Oscar nominations. Each won five. The Sound of Music took picture, director, music, sound and editing. Zhivago took adapted screenplay, cinematography, art, costume and score.
Another film released in 1965 which went mostly overlooked by the Academy was What’s New Pussycat? directed by Clive Donner. It did moderately well finishing #8 at the box office. The Oscar-nominated title song became a hit for Tom Jones. But the most interesting thing about this film is that it was the debut of an unknown screenwriter named Allan Stewart Konigsberg, better known to you and me by his stage name, Woody Allen.