Very much still one of my favourite things: The Sounds of Music turns 50

(image via Music Quad Posters)
(image via Music Quad Posters)


One of the great sacred rites of my childhood, which all my family observed with suitable pomp, ceremony and gleeful delight, but alas without wearing clothes made from hideously-ugly curtains, was sitting down to watch the annual screening on our sole commercial TV station – yes the barbarism of limited media choices in the early ’70s in regional New South Wales, Australia was without parallel – of the movie adaptation of Oscar and Hammerstein’s musical The Sound of Music.

In a time before VCRs, PVRs and quite possibly rock cravings done by Ugg, watching live and in person, with your own body weight of popcorn clung tightly to your bosom and those your nearest and dearest crammed into every available nook and cranny of the family room, was your only option.

Limiting though it might sound to modern sensibilities, this enforcement of family togetherness, around a movie that fairly screamed family togetherness, a rather important state of being when you were on the run from the Nazis whose ideas of favourite things likely did not include soft woolen mittens, raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, was one of the loveliest parts of growing up.

It reinforced that family mattered, that what you needed more than anything around you were the ones you love, a sentiment not always given voice by annoying siblings or loving but occasionally aggravating parents; that and the fact that you never let recently-arrived nannies determined your choice of sartorial splendour.

But that’s a whole other issue best left to therapy.

And now with The Sound of Music turning 50 – March 2 was the big date in the northern hemisphere where it debuted – followed just 8 months by yours truly doing much the same thing (OK exactly the same thing; clearly I am no longer able to sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” with any kind of authenticity unless it’s heavily laced with self-deprecating irony) – it seemed a fine old time to reminisce about a film that according to Daily Beast did not necessarily meet with universal favour or a longing to solve the problems of Maria when it first hit the screens.

“So it’s startling to learn, then, that when The Sound of Music first premiered five decades ago, our beloved classic actually received middling-to-horrible reviews. In fact, many critics despised it. It’s a historical context that adds extra intrigue to the Sound of Music phenomenon. How did a film that was generally derided evolve to be considered the perfect movie musical, with hills so alive after all these years that Lady Gaga stole the Oscars show with her tribute to them?”

And why was that you ask? How could a film about love, change, pursuing your destiny free from black-shirted tyranny and obnoxious teenage boys with delusions of tyrannical glory – yes I am looking at you Rolfe! Hang your whistle-blowing head in shame – not be meet with running-to-the-top-of-mountains shouts of joy?

Well as Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon notes, one critic in particular has lots and lots of “I will not climb every mountain, you can’t make me” reasons.

“The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther devoted two full columns to his distaste for the film’s unpalatable sweetness and artificial execution, while other prominent critics couldn’t stomach the film’s utterly batty plot.

“Crowther’s initial review was incensed by what he called the film’s ‘cosy-cum-corny’ direction, calling the plot ‘romantic nonsense and sentiment.’ In a later column written soon after the film’s release, he posited that The Sound of Music would destroy the movie-musical genre, taken to excellence by West Side Story and My Fair Lady, altogether.”

But that wasn’t all, not by “I’m not going to ford a single stream thank you” long shot.

“The barbs kept coming. The film? ‘Saccharine pudding’” The screenplay? ‘A virtual paraphrase of the musical-comedy book.’ The direction? ‘Staged…so as to wring every drop of sentiment.’ As a whole? ‘It all is sterile. As musical-film, it is not fresh. It is not sound.'”




Not everyone agreed with him of course with but pretty much everyone agreed that the film, which yes does have a gloriously ridiculous plot but 50 years later I am still perfectly fine with that, owed much of its success, and its ability to bring whole families in relative peace and harmony (but again a dearth of curtain-originated clothing), to the joyfully transcendent presence of Julie Andrews, notes Daily Beast.

“Even critics who hated the film, like Crowther, credited Andrews for making the whole movie seem less asinine than it really was. ‘Despite the hopeless pretense of reality with which she and the others have to contend, especially in the last phase, when the Von Trapps are supposed to be fleeing from the Nazis and their homeland, Miss Andrews treats the whole thing with the same air of serenely controlled self-confidence that she has when we first come upon her trilling the title song on a mountain top,’ he writes.”

I’d heartily concur with that commonly-agreed on summation.

Perhaps, like Fallon alleges in his article, we think of the film in far more glowing terms than it might otherwise mandate in purely cinematic terms purely because of the good times it has given us, but that aside, a great part of the reason why the film strikes such a chord is the sheer, unbridled enthusiasm for life with which Julia Andrews imbues Maria.

Like Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables before her, who also upset more than a few well rusted-on apple carts in their time, Maria, in the hands of Julie Andrews projects the sort of gleefully transformative qualities that we all wish could be a part of humdrum reality which has shown, to date at least, a notable penchant for ignoring happily-ever-afters (most of the time anyway), running across mountains tops just for the hell of it, and nuns with a way with car engines.

With Julie Andrews in the part, Maria, who apparently wasn’t quite so sweet and cuddly in real life, was the mother, nun, sister, aunt, whatever that we all wished we had, who would look at the status quo and scoff, daring anyone to challenge the staging of a play about goats and goatherders, or to not sigh in sweet contentment at a bunch of precocious children singers saying goodnight in perfectly-choreographed, stair-climbing fashion.

The Sound of Music may not be the greatest movie in the world, and it maybe mawkish and overly-sentimental but they are precisely the sort of things that real life often has precious too little of – along with Julie Andrews of whom there should be more all the time such as her recent appearance at the Oscars after Lady Gaga’s amazing performance – and the very things that draw people like my family together to watch it, even 50 years down the track.


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