On March 2, 1965, The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, had its world premiere at the Rivoli Theater in New York. The 174-minute film won 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 the sound of robert wise music is playing, you can do it. and that will be for a long time. however, don’t wait. do not deprive yourself of pleasure for a moment longer than necessary. run, don’t walk, to the nearest locker.
the 20th-fox release will be one of the greatest movie successes of all time, one of the greatest movies of all time. restores his faith in movies. if you sit quietly and let it work, it can also restore your faith in humanity. he does it with an infectious wit, with a constant joy, with a simple and realistic spirituality, with a romance of heartbreak and heartbreak. this is compared to the most beautiful scenery you have ever seen in your life. the sound of music is a whole image.
There are many reasons why this musical, from the tuneful intelligence of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, is such a smash hit. Thank producer/director Robert Wise, first and foremost, for his consummate skill in organizing and guiding you. But the talent that gives it the final push is, without a doubt, that of Julie Andrews.
This lady isn’t just a big star, she’s a whole dazzling, spinning constellation. she’s not just an ordinary movie personality, she’s a phenomenon. once there was mary pickford, then there was panache, now there is julie. It is very likely that she is the subject of one of the most intense and sustained loves between moviegoers and a star in the history of cinema.
It has been common to say that this Rodgers and Hammerstein score is not one of their greats. That’s how it looked when the show opened in New York. however, the show had a curious upward curve. Despite the condescending tone of critics, it enjoyed substantial success on Broadway. its enduring values have been seen elsewhere. has turned out to be one of the most popular shows in the new musical theaters now dotting the earth.
its punctuation, as a witness who has seen it five or six times can attest, is insidious. grows in the listener. perhaps the melodies are not whistled or hummed the first time they are heard. but they grow into one. commercially, therefore, the film has the advantage of a wonderful and seductive score, but one that hasn’t been made to completion. Richard Rodgers did two new songs for the film, in addition to the ones he and the late Oscar Hammerstein II did for the original.
The story is more or less true. and if it’s not quite the way things were, it should be true. Maria, a postulant at a convent near Salzburg, Austria, is separated from her duties to be governess to Baron von Trapp’s seven orphaned children. the baron, a former captain and hero of the Austrian army, runs his household on military lines. His five girls and two boys exercise his rebellion by tormenting a string of governesses. Maria is the first to defeat them. she does it with enthusiasm and charm, teaching them to live and love. she also wins over the captain and ends up being baroness von trapp herself.
von trapp left austria after the nazi anschluss. he is ordered to report for military service with the Nazis. Instead, he chooses to flee Austria, with his entire family. The image ends as the von Trapp family crosses the Austrian Alps to freedom in Switzerland. Then, of course, they 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, on stage, the austrian city of salzburg. justifies that location in the first few minutes. It’s a racy opening, no music, no sound, just clouds floating across the screen, clouds thinning out to reveal the alps, and then miss andrews singing the title song. it is a kind of irony that this matchless setting has been the background of paint and canvas 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 holes in the stage version. There’s a new song, “Confidence in Me”, sung by Miss Andrews with verve and verve, on her journey from the abbey to Villa von Trapp. The big final scene, where the von Trapps must confuse the Nazis into escaping, is set in a Salzburg concert hall. There is a good and exciting scene after this, where the von Trapps elude their pursuers with the help of Maria’s nuns. this leads naturally to the final scene of von trapps walking over the mountains to freedom.
Before these exciting moments, uniquely realistic in a musical, there has been a festival of romance and joy. There is the humor of Miss Andrews, as Maria, teaching her vivacious children how to exercise her spirit. the most spectacular, and one of the most purely cinematographic musical numbers ever performed, is the one in which she teaches them to sing, with the song “do-re-mi”. beginning on a high, flower-strewn alpine plateau, wise cuts without dissolution or explanatory transition to a series of scenes, each for a different verse of the song. this structure allows you to capture on your camera a series of spectacular backgrounds of salzburg, lakes, gardens, public squares. the tempo is sped up by the subtlety of changing costumes for the group in different verses. a temporal sequence is established without obvious mechanisms. it produces a flow of melody that enlivens the senses and works its way to a completely captivating conclusion. Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood choreographed the film. it is a creation of movement rather than dance in the conventional sense, endlessly imaginative and endearing.
there is a sequence in a gazebo on the villa grounds, where von trapp’s eldest daughter and a young suitor sing and dance to “sixteen turning seventeen” with rain splashing on the barred and glass-panelled walls that is intimate and fragile like young love. miss andrews and christopher plummer, who plays von trapp, declare their love is an austrian folk dance, the landler, which is all the more poignant because neither of them knows until the dance tells them that they are in love. this is done in a gilded and painted baroque room.
wise has its own version of the singing nuns, as some of mary’s elders at the convent join in a quartet to describe the young woman. (As one of the nuns, by the way, is Marni Nixon, now finally coming out from behind the screen with her own charming voice and her own sassy personality.) There’s another song, “Edelweiss,” a lyrical expression of the austrians’ love for their land, repeated with majestic rhythm like a wedding march for miss andrews and plummer. (what a relief not to have mendelssohn thundering from the tubes! how daring and how right!)
a yodeling number, “the lonely goatherd”, has been re-staged as a puppet number, with the children and miss andrews singing and manipulating the puppets, and jumping. there is the charming “good night” rondelay, where children sing their goodbyes at night. 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 delivered with breathless and deceptive liveliness in a small bedroom scene, mostly in bed, as Miss Andrews and the children together overcome their fear of thunder and lightning. Bobby Tucker did the vocal work, and they all sing loud, clear and musical. Irwin Kostal’s score gives the location and color of the different numbers. there is some dubbing of singing voices, but it is done discreetly. no dubbing, almost no need to add it, for miss andrews.
If the sound of the music has delays, there are really only breathing spaces between the emotions. In short, the picture slows down when Miss Andrews is not on. There is a subplot of a designer, played by Eleanor Parker, who wants to marry Plummer. miss parker is glamorous and charming, and her scenes have redeeming humor. but our heart is not in this aspect of the image. The simple truth is that when Miss Andrews is gone, the public can’t wait for her to come back.
the worst thing about julie andrews is that, according to the tape measure, she is not conventionally pretty. her eyes are magnificent sapphires, large and round. but her chin is too long. her nose comes to a point. her hairstyle for her photo makes her neck look too long. But though she may not be pretty, Miss Andrews is beautiful. she has the kind of sex appeal that doesn’t drive men to gnash their teeth, but drives them to conquer worlds.
plommer has charm and substance like von trapp. it makes the baron subtle without sophistication and obtuse without stupidity. he is a man of papers, and they become apparent as the film progresses. Miss Parker, as has been said, takes a stereotypical role and gives it dimension. Richard Haydn, as the impresario who launches the von Trapps chant, contributes good humor. Peggy Wood caps off an illustrious career with a memorable characterization.
young charmian carr, bowing to the screen as the eldest of the von trapp children, shows a promising gift. miss carr, a brunette with green eyes, knows how to act and sing, and her duet with daniel truhitte is one of the best moments in the film. Nicholas Hammond is a handsome guy, playing the oldest of the von Trapp sons, and Duane Chase is funny as the youngest. heather menzies, angela cartwright and debbie turner are excellent as three of the sisters. kym karath, as the diminutive youngest, is charming.
anna lee and portia nelson create individual portraits as two nuns in the abbey. Ben Wright is properly obnoxious as the local Nazi leader. The young Daniel Truhitte, mentioned above, is good in a tricky role, a handsome young man who must sour on us when he falls into the Nazi net. The cast is rounded out in major roles by Norma Varden, Gil Stuart, Evadne Baker, and Doris Lloyd.
ernest lehman did the script, and it’s a superlative job, a huge improvement over the stage version. his transitions are slippery, at least in theory, but he has made them with a steady step. it’s a great achievement to combine nuns and Nazis, castles and convents, and the different love stories, young and old, and make it all real. this lehman has done it, with tenderness, suspense and humor.
todd-ao’s photography of ted mccord in deluxe color is a substantial image asset. it is easy to see the success in the limpid photography of the incomparable Austrian landscape. But he is just as successful and endlessly thoughtful in scenes as tense as the sparkling rain scene of the youngsters at the summer house, or the dance beats between Miss Andrews and Plummer. boris leven’s production design is notable for his choice of austrian locations and for his creation of interiors here, such as the well-done entrance hall of the von trapp mansion. the backgrounds have the grace and elegance of a way of life, and the Nazi destruction of the spirit seems all the more terrible because we have become accustomed to its material evidence. Set decor by Walter Scott and Ruby Levitt complements this.
the sound of murray spivack and bernard freericks is excellent throughout. Imagination and skill were needed to create the perfect sound for those who sing numbers in the alps, but everything seems natural and real. the william reynolds edition has plenty of opportunity for happy comment. he himself has been a kind of choreographer in the number “do-re-mi”. without a clever cut, this daring number would not have been successful.
dorothy jeakins costumes have their distinctive character, the use of texture as well as color and cut to effect. his use of native materials and styles may cause a renaissance of the dirndl. Ben Nye’s makeup is very understated, and Margaret Donovan’s hairstyles are just right. Maurice Zuberano was a second unit supervisor and deputy director at Ridgeway Callow. saul chaplin was associate producer.
wise, lehman and chaplin were also in the smash hit west side story together. At the time, Wise’s contribution to that epic musical was thought to be limited to his mastery of realism and drama. wise proves in the sound of music that he can handle just about anything and do it with a foolproof invention. there is a consistent quality to the sound of the music. It is made up of taste, emotion, heart and mind, and more than any other individual, it was Robert Wise who put it there and kept it there. — James Powers, originally published March 1, 1965.