The Sound Of Music: The Hills Are Alive

Maria (Julie Andrews) is a nun, but not a good one. She’s always singing on the hills, always late and in trouble for doing the wrong things. Due to her non-nunlike attitudes, she is sent to the home of a retired navy captain, Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) to care for his children. He was widowed several years before and left to care for seven ‘rowdy’ kids. She soon sees that all they need is to be loved, and that’s when she teaches them to sing, and through music, love is brought back into the Von Trapp household. Unknowingly, Maria and Captain are falling love. But it’s not that easy. He is engaged and she’s meant to be a nun!

The Sound of Music is my favourite musical of all-time and is certain in my all-time favourite films list. It was made in a time where writers wrote real romance, not like today where characters meet in one scene and next they’re waking up together and in the next they’re walking down the aisle. Romance aside, the film is humorous and not in a corny way either. Like Mary Poppins in the previous year (1964), the comedy is very witty and tongue-in-cheek. Baroness Schraeder (Eleanor Parker) says “Goodbye Maria, I’m sure you’ll make a fine nun” all while knowing Maria has fallen in love with Captain Von Trapp. Her one-liners are simply wonderful to watch in action.

Capt. Von Trapp (Plummer), Max Detweiler (Richard Hadyn) and The Baroness (Parker)
(The Sound of Music, 20th Century Fox)

Quite frankly, the songs in The Sound of Music trump the feel-good factor of any musical… ever. From ‘My Favourite Things’ to ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ to ‘So Long Farewell’ to ‘The Sound of Music’, the songs are filled with a radiance that floods the screen and audiences with it. The hills are alive and you can really feel Julie Andrews’ perfect voice reverberating through the Austrian countryside in the opening acts. ‘The Sound of Music’ is one soundtrack that I take with me anywhere. It’s impossible not to fall in love with it. And when you hear ‘My Favourite Things’ being used in John Lewis ads, you know a film has made its mark on the world.

World War Two is as good a backdrop as any to depict good and evil. The Nazis are the ultimate “bad guy” in any movie set between the late 30s and mid-40s. Set in Austria 1938, our family are at the brink of seeing the Second World War. Though, because this is a musical, happiness is the aim of the game and it’s great to see the Von Trapps outwit them with the help of some very unholy nuns. Whoever heard of nuns who knew how to dismantle the exact car parts needed for the Nazis to get away? This film does not only win with cheering people up with song and dance, but it’s a well-constructed, wonderfully-written and brilliantly acted movie as well.

Raindrops on roses/ And whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens…
(The Sound of Music, 20th Century Fox)

We all know this story, even if we have only seen bits in passing on Sunday-afternoon televison. But we most definitely know ‘My Favourite Things’ because it has been on numerous Christmas adverts for the last thirty five years, at the very least. Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) is convincing and brilliant as the charming, opinionated nun-turned-governess. I’m astounded that she didn’t get the Oscar. But she made up for it with Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way) so that’s something. Christopher Plummer is really a man’s man in this, but his character also shows that men can have emotions. And that really says something about 60s’ gender identity as well.

The only other musicals I think deserves to be in the same sentence as this film are Mary Poppins (also Julie Andrews) and Singin’ In The Rain (1952). Mary Poppins was nominated for Best Picture for 1965 and The Sound of Music won it in 1966. Both won five Oscars, and their nominations went into double digits. Retrospectively, Singin’ In The Rain is loved by all but I think it was snubbed at the time, only being nominated for two golden statues. All three films are brilliant musicals in their own right and we will never see their like again. Musicals are not always real takes on the world, especially The Sound of Music. It’s a musical, so sometimes you have to turn the other cheek.

Captain Von Trapp has raised his children like he’s drilling his men on one of his ships
(The Sound of Music, 20th Century Fox)

With a narrative that has the right amount of familiar sentimentality, religious themes, romance and that anti-Nazi feeling that’s so typical of wartime films with Von Trapp refusing to submit to Nazi terror and director Robert Wise’s solid directing style, this musical is a perfect picture. Not to forget that score (Irwin Kostal), immaculate photography and pacing to thrill. Let’s not forget to mention that famous first shot of the camera panning across the Austrian Alps to see Julie Andrews singing the title song as she runs through the shining green valley. It’s movie magic for sure, made in Old Hollywood and it’s really what dreams are made of and it’s epicness.

Regardless of the fact that it’s also a biography drama, The Sound of Music is not the go-to film for historical realism. If you want that go to Braveheart, actually no… that’s not the best example. Perhaps Schindler’s List is a better depiction of World War Two. Yet, this is a child-friendly, feel-good, heart-meltingly brilliant and extravagant musical. It’s a Hollywood film which means that nine times out ten, historical inaccuracies are the last thing on the agenda. In other news, water is wet. Here in this story, Nazis can be outmanoeuvred by nuns and a family can escape to the mountains and live happily ever after. These are the sort of shenanigans musicals are known for.

Julie Andrews as Maria is one of the best performances of any musical ever!
(The Sound of Music, 20th Century Fox)

This is a film you can watch anytime. With excellent performances, brilliants songs/score and photography that only dreams are made of, Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music is certainly one that needs to be watched time and time again.

The happiest of musicals that can make a troubled mind see a little light at the end of the tunnel