Few films were as difficult to rank as ‘The Sound of Music’.
It is allegedly the most watched film ever, but for those who have not seen it, the storyline is as follows: in the last days of peacetime in the 1930s in Salzberg, Austria, a young nun, Maria (Julie Andrews) takes a job working for Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) as a governess for his seven children. The Captain runs his house like a ship with no music or fun, but Maria changes this and brings the music back into the house. However, war is approaching and it will not be long before the Nazis enter Austria and everything changes.
It is easy to criticise ‘The Sound of Music’. It is full of sentimentality and children skipping around gardens but it is truly a great film. Starting with the main point about this film: the music. Every single song is a classic, but the best are ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Climb Every Mountain’ and ‘Do-Re-Mi’ the latter filmed all over the sights of Salzberg. It was the last collaboration between Roger and Hammerstein and it is their greatest work: brilliant tunes, brilliant lyrics.
The filming is also stunning, and overlooked. The opening sequence in the mountains is wonderfully constructed, ending with Julie Andrews running towards the camera about to burst into song. It is an iconic film moment and truly great. The scene in the graveyard of the abbey towards the end of the film is also a masterclass in creating tension on the screen.
The script is also highly witty and another forgotten thing about this film. The best lines come from Eleanor Parker as the Baroness, Maria’s glamorous love-rival. Some of her lines are so wonderfully acidic, a personal favourite being, ‘Have you heard of a delightful little thing called boarding school?’, but in fairness the whole script is peppered with delightful one-liners and the whole film is wonderfully quotable.
Moving on to the acting: Julie Andrews is a delight and made for this role. She plays the part of the wholesome love interest, who is actually believable as a genuine partner for the Captain. Christopher Plummer is also great as the captain and father to the seven children, but for me it is the scenes with Eleanor Parker that I relish the most: she is manipulative and acerbic, but also totally charming. In the stage musical she has a song, which was removed for the film. I think that was a totally sensible idea, for without a song she is not part of the music that it brought back into the house.
At the end of the day, ‘The Sound of Music’ is a feelgood musical and not to be taken too seriously, and therefore levels of schmaltz are to be expected, and that is exactly what one gets, which will not be to everyone’s taste. If you are willing to look past dancing puppets and singing nuns then you will actually find a film that is so magical, so heartwarming and most remarkably, so beautifully made. If the word ‘classic’ ever referred to a film it was this one.