(Dir. Robert Wise) (1965)
We’re sorry, but we can only watch The Sound of Music in 15 minute increments. Any more attracts a risk of type-two diabetes. This cloying, sacchariferous, candied, 174-minute dollop of goo would have received one or less review stars from us, but for the superb cinematography, sweeping over and around the chocolate-box town of Salzburg and its surrounding mountains, and the overall production values, which are first-rate.
The (bizarre and stupefying) success of both the stage musical and the film have led to endless revivals around the globe, the mawkish meld of Nuns, Nazis and warbling infants a seemingly irresistible combo. We are told that there is a perpetual Sound of Music dinner theatre experience, where patrons can wallow in nostalgia and strudel (though not schnitzel with noodles) as a man from Japan plays Captain von Trapp (at least the casting remains faithful to the Axis powers). Intelligent people lap this stuff up, so we at The Varnished Culture are obviously in the minority on this one. As critic Pauline Kael memorably observed at the time of the film’s release, The Sound of Music was “the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat.”
Robert Wise knew a thing or two about editing (just ask Orson Welles) and he could craft a musical film without over-egging the pudding (West Side Story) but here, he seems to have run out of ideas and instead clobbers us with reprise upon reprise, till it feels like another Anschluss would provide something of a relief. Julie Andrews (who was born to play Dorothea Brooke but didn’t) is euphoric and insufferable; Christopher Plummer and the other alleged adults act like statues. The Nazis are as threatening and competent as the Three Stooges. The children all need a damn good thrashing.
As Clive James commented on the happy ending: “Improvising brilliantly, Julie and Christopher get married, enter the children in the Salzburg Festival, and walk to Switzerland under cover of the applause.”
Furthermore, we have a surfeit of quibbles:
2. The Eidelweiss is an ugly flower, and the ‘olde Austrian folk song,’ that Trapp trills in homage to it, was written by Oscar Hammerstein.
3. When Maria first whirls into view, her nipples taped because of the crispness of the air, it is abundantly clear that she is performing what has come to be known as a Milli Vanilli.
4. (The technically insolvent) Trapp would naturally spurn the Baroness, once Maria bobbed-up in her dress made from curtains. Yeah, right.
5. The Anschluss of 1938 had been (at least) 8 years in the making. The Austrian Chancellor, Dollfuss, was assassinated by Nazi agents in 1934. So why are Maria and the Captain traipsing around Frohnburg Castle and sipping pink lemonade, grinning like beatific idiots, after Hitler has taken charge?
6. Liesl should have used different lyrics to her big number:
“I am sixteen, going on twenty-three,
I’ve been around the block,
Whilst as a rule I’m nobody’s fool
What got me to do this schlock?
I need one even older and wiser
Telling me what to do,
You are the man from MCA Talent
Think I’ll depend on you.”
7. We accept that Mother Abbess bellowed at Maria & Co. (twice) to “Climb Every Mountain”, but why didn’t they just catch a train? No fugitives hike from Salzburg to Switzerland, and no refugees from the Nazis did it via Berchtesgaden!
We added half a star for the appearance of Eleanor Parker (the Baroness) and Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler). They were the only characters with a sense of style, and some actual sense as well. And we did like the Baroness’ attempt to play ball with the kiddies! Yes, she would have made an outstanding Mommie Dearest.