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On March 2, 1965, The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, held its world premiere at the Rivoli Theatre in New York. The 174-minute film went on to win five Oscars at the 38th Academy Awards, including best picture. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Who says you can’t buy happiness? As long as Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music is playing, you can. And that’s going to be for a good long time. Don’t, however, wait. Don’t deprive yourself of the pleasure a moment longer than necessary. Run, do not walk, to the nearest box office.
The 20th-Fox release will be one of the movies’ all-time hits, one of the all-time great pictures. 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. This is set against the most beautiful scenery you have seen in your life. The Sound of Music is quite a picture.
There are many reasons why this musical, from the lilting intelligence of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, is such an enthralling success. Credit producer-director Robert Wise, first of all, for his consummate skill in organizing and guiding it. But the talent that gives it the final lift is unquestionably that of Julie Andrews.
This lady is not just a great star, she is a whole whirling, dazzling constellation. She is not just an ordinary movie personality, she is a phenomenon. Once there was Mary Pickford, then there was Garbo, now there is Julie. She is very likely going to be the object of one of the most intense and sustained love affairs between moviegoers and a star in the history of motion pictures.
It has been common to say that this score by Rodgers and Hammerstein is not one of their great ones. So it seemed when the show opened in New York. The show had a curious rising curve, though. Despite the patronizing tone of the critics, it enjoyed a substantial Broadway success. Its enduring values have been seen elsewhere. It has turned out to be one of the most popular shows in new musical theaters now dotting the land.
Its score, as one witness who has seen it five or six times can testify, is insidious. It grows on the hearer. Maybe the tunes aren’t whistled or hummed the first time they’re heard. But they grow on one. Commercially, therefore, the film has the advantage of a marvelous, beguiling score but one that has not been done to death. Richard Rodgers did two new songs for the film, adding to those done for the original by him and the late Oscar Hammerstein II.
The story is more or less true. And if it isn’t altogether as things were, it should be true. Maria, a postulant at a convent near Salzburg, Austria, is detached from her duties to be governess to the seven motherless children of Baron Von Trapp. The Baron, formerly a captain and hero in the Austrian navy, runs his home on military lines. His five girls and two boys exercise their rebellion by tormenting a string of governesses. Maria is the first to defeat them. She does it with spunkiness and charm, teaching them to live and love. She also makes a conquest of the captain and ends up herself Baroness Von Trapp.
Von Trapp left Austria after the Nazi Anschluss. He is ordered to report for military service with the Nazis. He elects instead to flee Austria, with his whole family. The picture ends as the Von Trapp family walks across the Austrian Alps to freedom in Switzerland. They later, of course, came to the United States and became famous as a singing group.
Wise shot all the exteriors of The Sound of Music, and some of the interiors, at the locale, the Austrian city of Salzburg. He justifies that location in the first few minutes. It is a daring opening, with no music, no sound, just clouds floating across the screen, clouds that thin to disclose the Alps, and then Miss Andrews singing the title song. It is some kind of irony that this incomparable scenery has been the paint-and-canvas background for a dozen operettas. This is the first time it has been used “live.”
The Sound of Music is what it says, almost continuously musical in sound. Wise and company have used music to cover two bad gaps in the stage version. There is a new song, “Confidence in Me,” sung by Miss Andrews with bounce and verve, on her journey from the Abbey to the Von Trapp villa. The final big scene, where the Von Trapps must confuse the Nazis in making a getaway, has been set in a Salzburg concert hall. There is a good, exciting scene following this where the Von Trapps elude their pursuers with the help of Maria’s nuns. This leads naturally into the final scene of the Von Trapps walking over the mountains to freedom.
Before these gripping moments, exceptionally realistic in a musical, there has been a festival of romance and gaiety. There is the humor of Miss Andrews, as Maria, teaching her high-spirited children how to exercise their spirits. The most spectacular, and one of the most purely film musical numbers ever done, is that where she teaches them how to sing, with the song, “Do-Re-Mi.” Starting on a high, flower-strewn Alpine plateau, Wise cuts without dissolve or explanatory transition to a series of scenes, each for a different verse of the song. This structure enables him to get into his camera a series of spectacular Salzburg backgrounds, lakes, gardens, public squares. The tempo is quickened by the subtlety of changing costumes for the group on different verses. A time sequence is established without obvious mechanisms. It produces a flow of melody that quickens the senses and works to a completely captivating conclusion. Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood did the choreography for the picture. It is a creation of movement rather than dance in the conventional sense, infinitely imaginative and endearing.
There is a sequence in a gazebo of the villa grounds, where Von Trapp’s eldest daughter and a young suitor sing and dance to “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” with the rain splashing on the trellised, glass-paned walls that is intimate and fragile as young love. Miss Andrews and Christopher Plummer, who plays Von Trapp, declare their love is an Austrian folk dance, the landler, that is more touching because neither knows until the dance claims them that they are in love. This is done in a gilt-and-painted, baroque salon.
Wise has his own version of the singing nuns, as some of Maria’s seniors in the convent join in a quartet to describe the young woman. (As one of the nuns, incidentally, there is Marni Nixon, now, finally, out from behind the screen with her own winsome voice and her own pert personality.) There is another song, “Edelweiss,” a lyric expression of the Austrians’ love of their land, which is repeated in stately rhythm as a wedding march for Miss Andrews and Plummer. (What a relief not to have Mendelssohn thundering from the pipes! How daring and how right!)
A yodeling number, “The Lonely Goatherd,” has been given new staging for the picture as a puppet number, with the children and Miss Andrews singing and manipulating the puppets, and yo-tee-hodeling away. There is the charming rondelay “Good Night,” where the children chant their farewells for the evening. There is Peggy Wood, as the Mother Abbess, giving spiritual and practical advice to Miss Andrews in the song “Climb Every Mountain.” Another song, “My Favorite Things,” is staged with breathless and tricky vivacity in a small bedroom scene — most of it on the bed — while Miss Andrews and the kids jointly conquer their fear of thunder and lightning. Bobby Tucker did the vocal work, and one and all sing loud, clear and musically. Irwin Kostal’s scoring gives the different numbers placement and color. There is some dubbing of singing voices, but it is done unobtrusively. There is no dubbing, it need hardly be added, for Miss Andrews.
If The Sound of Music has lags, there are really only respites between the excitements. In short, the picture slows down when Miss Andrews is not on. There is a subplot of a designing lady, played by Eleanor Parker, who wants to marry Plummer. Miss Parker is glamorous and lovely, and she gets redeeming humor in her scenes. But our heart is not in this aspect of the picture. The simple truth is that when Miss Andrews is not on, the audience is impatient for her to get back.
The darndest thing about Julie Andrews is that, by the tape measure, she isn’t conventionally pretty. Her eyes are magnificent, big, round sapphires. But her chin is too long. Her nose comes to a point. Her hairstyle for the picture makes her neck seem too long. But while she may not be pretty, Miss Andrews is beautiful. She has the kind of sex appeal that doesn’t set men to grinding their teeth, but does set them to conquering worlds.
Plummer has charm and substance as Von Trapp. He makes the baron subtle without sophistication, and obtuse without stupidity. He is a man of parts, and they become apparent as the film plays. Miss Parker, as noted, takes a stereotype role and give it dimension. Richard Haydn, as the impresario who launches the singing Von Trapps, contributes some nice humor. Peggy Wood crowns an illustrious career with a memorable characterization.
Young Charmian Carr, making her screen bow as the eldest of the Von Trapp children, displays a promising gift. Miss Carr, a green-eyed brunette, can act and sing, and her duet with Daniel Truhitte is one of the film’s nicest moments. Nicholas Hammond is a good-looking boy, playing the older of the Von Trapp sons, and Duane Chase is amusing as the younger. Heather Menzies, Angela Cartwright and Debbie Turner are excellent as three of the sisters. Kym Karath, as the pint-sized youngest, is a dear.
Anna Lee and Portia Nelson create individual portraits as two nuns at the Abbey. Ben Wright is properly unpleasant as the local Nazi leader. Young Daniel Truhitte, noted above, is good in a tricky role, an appealing youth who must sour on us as he falls into the Nazi web. The cast is rounded out in important roles with Norma Varden, Gil Stuart, Evadne Baker and Doris Lloyd.
Ernest Lehman did the screenplay, and it is a superlative job, a vast improvement over the stage version. His transitions are slippery, at least in theory, but he has made them sure-footed. It is a great accomplishment to combine nuns and Nazis, castles and convents, and the different love stories, youthful and mature, and make it all real. This Lehman has done, with tenderness, suspense and humor.
Ted McCord’s Todd-AO photography in DeLuxe color is a substantial asset of the picture. It is easy to see the success in the limpid photography of the incomparable Austrian scenery. But he is equally successful and endlessly thoughtful in such tight scenes as the young people’s rain-sparkling scene in the summer house, or the rhythms of the dance between Miss Andrews and Plummer. Boris Leven’s production design is noteworthy for his choice of Austrian locations and for his creation of interiors here, such as the entrance hall of the Von Trapp manor, so well done. The backgrounds have the grace and elegance of a way of life, and the Nazis’ destruction of the spirit of it seems the more terrible because we have grown accustomed to its material evidence. Set decoration by Walter Scott and Ruby Levitt complements this.
Sound by Murray Spivack and Bernard Freericks is excellent throughout. It took imagination and skill to create perfect sound for those singing numbers in the Alps, but it all seems effortless, and real. William Reynolds’ editing gets many opportunities for felicitous comment. He has been a kind of choreographer himself on the “Do-Re-Mi” number. Without shrewd cutting, this daring number would not have succeeded.
Dorothy Jeakins’ costumes have her distinctive character, the use of texture, as well as color and cut for effect. Her use of native materials and styles may cause a revival of the dirndl. Ben Nye’s makeup is very discreet, and Margaret Donovan’s hairstyles are correct. Maurice Zuberano was second unit supervisor, and Ridgeway Callow assistant director. Saul Chaplin was associate producer.
Wise, Lehman and Chaplin were also together on the great hit West Side Story. At the time, Wise’s contribution to that epic musical was thought to be confined to his command of realism and drama. Wise demonstrates in The Sound of Music that he can handle just about anything, and do it with unerring invention. There is a consistent quality in The Sound of Music. It is compounded of taste, excitement, heart and mind, and more than any other individual, the one who put it there and kept it there was Robert Wise. — James Powers, originally published on March 1, 1965.
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