The original plan was to post this sometime between Sunday and Tuesday, but this week’s been crazy in more ways than one. My uncle died since my last blog post for one – the very uncle who was a major inspiration behind me discovering my love of writing. I may write a full length blog post about that soon. I also helped a friend prepare for moving into their new house. And there’s a new job posting at work that I’m feeling hopeful for, considering I have direct work experience there for everything they’re asking for, so I’m putting as much effort as I can into that. Anyway, onto the review.
It takes quite a bit to become the highest grossing movie of all-time. In history, only 11 movies have ever achieved that landmark. Two of those movies have taken back the title after another snatched it from them. The movie that held the record for the longest is Gone with the Wind, which held the record from 1940 to 1966, and even took it back in 1971 (to permanently lose it to The Godfather). No other movie has ever held the record for more than 26 consecutive years though. Why am I mentioning that now? Because the movie I’m looking at today is the movie that finally defeated Gone with the Wind as the highest grossing movie in history. The Sound of Music. It’s also the only musical to ever be the highest grossing movie of all-time at any point.
That right there is worthy of recognition. Of the four movies I’m looking at this month, it’s also the one with the most Academy Award wins, with 5 (out of 10 nominations). It won Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Wise), Best Film Editing, Best Scoring of Music, and Best Sound. It also won two Golden Globes, for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Best Actress (Julia Andrews). With its $114.6 million earned in its initial run, it became the first movie in history to pass the $100 million barrier (Gone with the Wind was sitting at $67 million at the time). All that, despite the fact that initial reviews were mixed.
Fun fact – it’s also the first American movie to be completely dubbed over in foreign language, both dialogue and music. The German, French, Italian and Spanish versions were completely dubbed, and while the Japanese version kept the songs in English, they dubbed over the dialogue.
So far this month we’ve looked at a film based on a children’s book series, an original story that started off as a showcase of Arthur Freed’s music catalogue, and the final post will be about a movie based on a Broadway show. So what is Sound of Music based on? It’s actually based on a true story. George von Trapp really was a wealthy former navy officer for Austria-Hungary during the First World War, and a decorated one at that. Five years after his first wife died, he married Maria, 25 years his junior, and the family as a whole began a singing act. However unlike in the movie, she was a tutor for one of George’s older daughters, not as a governess. The family left Austria after George refused to rejoin the military, due to disagreeing with Nazi ideologies, although there were no threats to arrest him – they merely continued to try and woo him into joining them. After George passed away in 1947, Maria was convinced to write a memoir about their time together, called The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. That inspired the 1959 Broadway musical, The Sound of Music, and this film adaptation.
In December of 1962, 20th Century Fox hired Ernest Lehman to write a screenplay for a film adaptation of the musical. He reviewed the stage musical’s script, re-arranged the sequence of songs, and mainly focused on opening up the film to take advantage of Salzburg and the Australian Alps, instead of keeping the movie confined the way a stage musical would. For example, the Do-Re-Mi sequence was mostly stagnant in the play, but the film turned it into a montage, showing a wide variety of scenic environments while also showing Maria growing closer to the kids as the song went on. At the time, there were also two German-made films based on the Trapp family. Although Fox created a dubbed version of those films to help Lehman with inspiration, he wasn’t overly impressed, so he mostly focused on the Broadway version for his inspiration. Those movies still remained much more popular in Germany and Austria though, despite The Sound of Music’s massive success throughout the rest of Europe.
Lehman also invited one of his favourite directors, William Wyler, to see the Broadway musical in New York. Wyler said he hated it, but after two weeks of persuasion, he agreed to direct and produce the film. Over time however, Lehman started having reservations about Wyler’s commitment. When Lehmen completed his first draft of the script, Wyler offered no suggestions to improve the script. Lehmen then secretly sent a script to Robert Wise, another director Lehmen would like to direct the film. Wyler wanted to delay the film’s production so he could focus on his other project, The Collector. They decided at that point to move ahead on schedule with another director, ending Wyler’s participation. Meanwhile, Wise’s film, The Sand Pebbles, was delayed. He read Lehmen’s first draft, enjoyed it, and quickly agreed to direct.
Wise and Lehmen agreed to focus the movie primarily on the music, and worked together on improving the script. He also joined the location scouting, which Wyler had begun. Most of the changes from the Broadway involved reducing the sentimentality found in the stage musical. He was resistant at first to the aerial shot opening, as Lehmen also used it in West Side Story, but couldn’t think of a better opening. Some additional changes were made to the script thanks to Maria Von Trapp providing input on George’s personality, as well as Christopher Plummer helping them build the character into a more forceful, complex character with a darker edge and a sense of humour. On that note, Plummer portrays George in the film.
For the role of Maria, Lehmen’s first and only choice was Julia Andrews. Wise agreed on Andrews being the best choice, but also offered Grace Kelly and Shirley Jones as alternatives. The two of them went to Disney Studios to view footage from Mary Poppins, which hadn’t released yet. A few minutes into the film, Wise told Lehmen, “Let’s go sign this girl before somebody else sees this film and grabs her!” Andrews was a touch hesitant at first, feeling the Broadway play contained too much sweetness, but agreed to join after she learned that the writer and director shared those concerns. Casting Plummer as George proved to be more difficult. He actually turned down the role several times, and some of the other actors considered for the role included Bing Crosby, Yul Brynner, Sean Connery and Richard Burton.
The casting of the children took a fair amount of time, with hundreds of interviews conducted, along with a number of screen tests. Among those not selected include Kurt Russell, the Osmands, Academy Award winner “Patty” Duke, and Lesley Ann Warren. Most of the kids selected had some acting or dancing experience. Charmian Carr specifically, who plays the oldest sister in the family, was a model who worked part-time in a doctor’s office and had no ambitions as an actress. Recalling her interview, Wise said, “She was so pretty and had such poise and charm that we liked her immediately.”
There are other interesting behind the scenes stories, but I don’t want this to go on for too long. Let’s get into the actual review part of this blog post.
From the opening shot, it’s clear that The Sound of Music is an ambitious film. It begins with a sequence of scenic views of the Austrian countryside, complete with mountains, towns, lakes and rivers. Finally, there’s a distant aerial shot of a hilltop with Andrews walking in the fields, closing in as she nears the top. This beautiful scenery appears regularly throughout the film, taking advantage of the Austrian mountains and rivers. The cinematography in general is fantastic throughout the film. There’s also a lot of smart writing sprinkled throughout, whether it be the witty comedy, ore the more dramatic moments.
When it comes to the non-musical drama in the movie, The Sound of Music is at its best when things get tense. There’s a subtle exchange between George and the Nazi sympathizers towards the end of the film that stands out. The Nazis make it clear they will force their hand if he doesn’t join them voluntarily, without directly stating so for the sake of the children present. Meanwhile, George is trying his best to wiggle his way out of joining them without straight up refusing.
The relationship between George and Maria grows naturally. It starts with a general dislike, mostly through disagreements with how each of them want to treat the children. There’s also the added obstacles of George being involved with another woman, while Maria is intent on becoming a nun, therefore she shouldn’t get involved in a relationship. Their mutual love of music is what ultimately brings them together.
From a musical standpoint, this movie is full of memorable songs, many of which have since become cultural staples. Do-Re-Mi is often used to help teach people music in schools, even if the lyrics in the second half of the song are often different. My Favourite Things has been used in so many different ways, although admittedly, Andrews performed that song before performing in this movie. For my personal taste however, some of the songs in this movie feel a bit too long. These numbers stretch the movie longer than I would have liked. I enjoyed this movie, don’t get me wrong, but I’d like it more if Do-Re-Mi, Maria, The Lonely Goatherd (the yodeling song) and Sixteen Going on Seventeen were all shortened by half. I have no complaints about the non-musical scenes though.
I’m pretty sure this is up there with my mom’s favourite movies. My mom can be a bit like a little kid when it comes to movies, in that she keeps watching them over and over again. Not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but she completely wore out several of her favourite movies on VHS because she watched them too much. Well … sometimes it was also because she’d fast-forward to her favourite parts. I’ve seen significant chunks of The Sound of Music before, but never the full movie. I remember at one point she tried to get us to watch it with her, back in my early teens or so, but I was at a specific point where I wasn’t all that interested in musicals or classics. I watched the first half hour or so, then went off to do my own thing. Over the years I’d walk into the TV room when she was in the middle of watching it, but even when I was older and more curious about this classic, I’d rather have watched the movie from the beginning. I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for a while now, but only got around to it for this blog post.
Overall, I’m glad I finally watched it. Sure, it was a bit long for my tastes, but it is a genuinely great movie. It carries an overall optimistic feel, yet doesn’t shy away from the darker, sadder parts of the story. It’s got a number of well realized characters who learn and grow as the movie goes on. It’s also genuinely funny when it tries to be. I’m not sure if or when I’ll watch this movie again, but it is an easy recommendation for fans of the cinematic musical. The Sound of Music deserves its fame and recognition.
I’ve decided that the last movie I’ll be looking at for this theme month is Fiddler on the Roof. That also means that I’ll be looking at a musical from 4 different decades for this series, and that just feels right. Next month, I’ll start a blog series on the Pink Panther movie franchise. That’s a franchise where the development process, production problems, and the confusing timeline might actually be more fun to discuss than the actual movies. It’ll also be a challenge, as I don’t usually talk about comedies at length.