The Sound of Music (review)

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Hi Ho, Hi Ho

How can you tell The Sound of Music is a fantasy? Forget that it’s based on a true story. The fantasy tip-off is this: Julie Andrews plays a nun. The radiant and sweetly sexy Andrews, not that she isn’t delightful in the role, is about as believable as a nun as, say, Mel Gibson would be as the Pope.

The scene is Salzburg, Austria, in the late 30s, and Andrews’s Maria is actually a postulate, a kind of nun-in-training who hasn’t yet taken her final vows. The sisters at the abbey can’t quite buy into her as a nun, either — she seems too flighty, playful, and curious to devote her life to God. In the first of many fine Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes, the nuns wonder, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” They solve it — or at least put off solving it — by sending Maria to be a temporary governess to the children of widower Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) of the Austrian navy.

The captain treats his children like a troop of regimented sailors: “The Von Trapp children don’t play,” the housekeeper tells Maria, “they march.” Ah, but Maria will change all that, defrosting the crusty captain and teaching the children how to play and sing again. Naturally, Maria and Von Trapp fall in love, and there is much singing, dancing, and romancing, as well as a thrilling nighttime escape from nasty Nazis thrown in for good measure.

At some point during The Sound of Music, I realized I was actually watching Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs. I think this struck me during the scene in which innocent and virginal Maria — with her utilitarian hairdo and high-necked dresses, she even looks like Snow White — is coaching the seven adorable Von Trapp moppets, all dressed alike in play clothes she has made for them, in singing lessons. Cast into the big scary world from her protected sanctuary of the abbey, young Maria is taken in by seven little people who adore her, and in return she takes care of them. Instead of “Hi ho, hi ho / It’s off to work we go,” these little folk sing, “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.” The evil stepmother is the cool and cultured Baroness (Eleanor Parker), whom Von Trapp is about to marry until he comes to his senses and realizes that he loves Maria. (How evil is the Baroness? She wants to send the Von Trapp children to — gasp! — boarding school!) When the Baroness suspects that there is a dangerous attraction between her man and Snow White– er, Maria, she offers Maria a poisoned apple, so to speak, by reminding her of her duty and responsibility to the abbey.

But the captain wakes Maria from her despair and confusion with a kiss, and all ends happily. Von Trapp even looks like Prince Charming in his naval uniform at his and Maria’s wedding.

If only real life offered such satisfying fantasies as those of The Sound of Music.

Oscars Best Picture 1965
AFI 100 (1998 list): #55

unforgettable movie moment:
The stunningly gorgeous vistas of the Alps that open the film, culminating in that famous shot of Julia Andrews joyfully twirling around.

previous Best Picture:
1964: My Fair Lady
next Best Picture:
1966: A Man for All Seasons

previous AFI 100 film:
54: All Quiet on the Western Front
next AFI 100 film:
56: MASH

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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