The Sound of Music Review
This year (2010) marks the 45th Anniversary of the release of one of the world’s most successful movie musicals and to celebrate the occasion 20th Century Fox have produced a new, fully restored transfer so that the UK Region free Blu-ray hills are now alive with ‘The Sound of Music.’
This is a movie that has dominated the Bank Holiday TV listings for many a year, but the reason they keep showing it is because people will always sit down and watch it. Now, for a film with a duration of 174 minutes to grab a large audience with every repeat viewing, it must have something really special going for it. There aren’t many films that have such great repeatability. It may not be ‘cool’ to admit to liking ‘The Sound of Music’ but those of us who are not repressed are unafraid to express pleasure openly and proudly, when it suits us. I can just imagine today’s late teenagers rolling their eyes (they’re always doing that) and saying “Wot-evaaa” in the most lacklustre tone they can muster when someone mentions ‘The Sound of Music’. It also generally doesn’t excite those who are used to mindless blockbuster action movies. That’s because it’s a ‘nice’ movie, but no less a blockbuster because of this. Indeed, I can recall seeing long queues of people waiting patiently outside cinemas when it was first released in 1965 and whenever it was re-released thereafter.
The film swept the board at the 1966 Oscars, picking up statuettes in several categories – not least of which was Best direction for director Robert Wise who had previously won a Best Picture Oscar for ‘West Side Story’. "The Sound of Music" also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Music, and Best Sound. The Rodgers & Hammerstein songs have never left the popular public songbook since then. The title song is very emotive, combined as it is with the helicopter shot of the Austrian hillside as Julie Andrews rushes up enthusiastically, does a spin and launches into,” The hills are alive with the sound of music...”
The audience has been waiting for this moment, having sat through several minutes of beautifully shot 70mm aerial footage of the mountains and lakes – but it’s that moment when the shot cuts from wide to close up on Julie’s wide armed spin that causes a rising feeling in the chest. There’s not a bad song in this movie and they have the effect of making people want to join in, which explains the ‘sing-along’ versions of the film that have been pulling in the crowds of happy people for many years. For the folks who like to do this, there are sing-along versions of the songs on the Blu-ray.
The first song I learned to play on the guitar was ‘Edelweiss’ – which I thought was a great number as it was relatively short, ensuring that I could remember the words. It was also Oscar Hammerstein’s last song that he wrote before he died. Everyone thinks it’s an authentic Austrian Folk song, but was actually written for the show because they needed a song about the land and the people to link it all together. In the movie Christopher Plummer’s singing voice on ‘Edelweiss’ and other numbers is dubbed by a chap called Bill Lee and, if you listen to Mr Plummer’s own singing test (among the Blu-ray extras), you can appreciate why. There’s a great swell of emotion when the audience at the song contest join in with ‘Edelweiss’ in the last couple of reels, causing a genuine lump in the throat.
During the ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’ number, keep an eye out among the singing nuns for Sister Sophia. She’s played by a lady called Marni Nixon, who was Deborah Kerr’s singing voice in ‘The King and I’.
Julie Andrews came to ‘The Sound of Music’ fresh from her 1962 Oscar winning performance in ‘Mary Poppins’, so she seemed to be making a career out of playing Nannies for a while. Her rich, sweet singing voice sounds pitch perfect in all the numbers. She conveys the feisty enthusiasm of the young postulant who’s not really cut out for a Nun’s habit as she takes on the challenge of a role as Governess to a family of children belonging to a rather aloof, remote, retired U-Boat Captain. The film has such a great sense of fun and hearty enjoyment that it’s hard not to be caught up in it. I’d recommend projecting the Blu-ray on a big screen, as it feels like you have your own film print of the movie. The grandeur of the opening mountain shots enjoy being able to breathe on a big screen too.
Ted McCord was one of Hollywood’s legendary cameramen and his beautiful framing of shots is real eye candy. From the close ups of the elderly Nuns near the start of the picture, revealing every wrinkle in the directional lighting, to the well lit hillside as Maria and the children sing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ – his camerawork is faultless. There are some sequences such as the ‘Sixteen going on Seventeen’ number and ‘Something Good’ that make use of the Pro-mist filter in front of the lens to produce a halo like effect around highlights. This is a proper lighting cameraman at work.
The screenplay was written by frequent Oscar nominee Ernest Lehman (‘Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ ‘North by Northwest’), so he came highly recommended. Lehman had already written a romance where a girl of low station falls in love with a man higher up on the social ladder (‘Sabrina,’ 1954), and he had two musicals under his belt: ‘The King and I’ (1956) and ‘West Side Story’ (1961). Pretty good qualifications all round.
‘The Sound of Music’ started out as a Broadway stage musical with Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as the Captain. It was the smash hit of its day and the musical has had various revivals over the years, not least being the Andrew Lloyd Webber production with Connie Fisher in the lead role in London’s West End. Despite the success of any stage version, it’s the movie version that has become imprinted in the public consciousness and when you think of ‘The Sound of Music’, you think of Julie Andrews. This surely must guarantee it the status of a modern day icon. Do your heart some good, watch it tonight.