The Sound of Music: 40th Anniversary Edition
Fox Home Video
Starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer
Written by Ernest Lehman
Back to Review Index
Back to Quick Reviews
Review by Dawn Taylor
The Sound of Music is one of the most beloved musicals is the history of film.
Frankly, the safest course for a reviewer would be to leave the statement at that. Like Gone with the Wind, there are folks who are just plain bug-wacky for The Sound of Music and will abide nothing but unadulterated praise for the film as well as scores of "reg'lar folk" who look upon it with a sort of awed respect. Example: I have this friend, a writer/editor, the sort of semi-jaded, pop culture-savvy 30ish wiseass that you'd think would absolutely despise The Sound of Music. Yet, when I mentioned that I had acquired the two-disc DVD release and was going to be writing a review he said, "I'm so jealous! The Sound of Music is the best musical ever made!" There ya go. (He also proceeded to explain that The Sound of Music is all about sex. He's right but I'll get to that later.)
For those readers who have just popped full-grown from a giant clamshell, the plot is thus: Maria (Julie Andrews) is a headstrong, willful young novitiate at an abbey in Salzburg. The nuns are so perplexed with how to handle her un-nunlike behavior that they sing a song about it, then the Mother Superior (Peggy Wood) sends her off to serve as a governess for a local widower's seven children. The widower, Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), is bitter and withdrawn since the death of his wife. He runs the house in a militarized fashion, is emotionally unavailable to his children, and generally acts like a bastard. The Captain is considering marrying a sophisticated and sultry Baroness (Eleanor Parker), but through the good-natured musical influence of Maria he softens, becomes a good father, and discovers that he prefers the governess to the Baroness. The Captain and Maria marry, the Nazis invade, and the Von Trapps flee over a mountain. The end.
What's Good About The Sound of Music.
- First and foremost, Julie Andrews. That's the main thing. She really is unbelievably good as Maria aside from being a phenomenal singer, she's beautiful and charming and sexy and innocent and playful and well, she's Julie freakin' Andrews.
- When Rodgers & Hammerstein were good, they were very, very good. The Sound of Music features not only the title tune but "Do-Re-Mi," "Edelweiss," "My Favorite Things," and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." And that damn song about solving a problem like Maria that stays in your head for days and days and days until you want to pound on your own forehead with a claw hammer to just make it stop.
- The locations in Salzburg are breathtaking, and the way they are used to open up the story is brilliantly executed, especially the montage of city scenes during "Do-Re-Mi." And, of course, the opening sequence the camera sweeping across the snow-covered mountains, over the city, up into the green, surrounding hills and then zooming in on Julie Andrews, arms outstretched, as she belts out the title tune (note: take a look at the opening of West Side Story directed by Robert Wise four years earlier and compare the similarity of the two sequences).
- You can spy interesting actors in small roles. Marni Nixon has her only on-screen role in this film, playing one of the nuns. Angela Cartwright Penny from TV's Lost in Space is the middle child, Brigitta. And another nun, Sister Margaretta, is played by Anna Lee matriarch Lila Quartermain on General Hospital.
What's Bad About The Sound of Music.
- When Rodgers & Hammerstein weren't good, they were hideous (remember "Happy Talk" from South Pacific?). "The Lonely Goatherd" which accompanies the freaky Bil Baird puppet sequence is enough to make you want to take a bullet in the head. "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" is a truly awful song, following a hallowed R&H tradition of including one tune in every show that refers to female sexuality in some twisted, coy way. And the song in which Maria starts blathering on about how, back in her "youth or childhood" she must have done "Something Good" when the poor Captain just wants to ravish her in the greenhouse well, the original song from the play that it replaced, "An Ordinary Couple," is actually a much better song. It may have been replaced to accomodate the fact that Plummer's singing voice was dubbed.
- It's very, very long. The Sound of Music, at 175 minutes, takes its sweet time telling the story. Each act takes an hour to play out, with the love story resolving itself and the Nazi problem appearing and dealt with, including the escape all in the last act. And for a film that is, ostensibly, about Maria Von Trapp, she becomes less and less integral as the story progresses. We see everything from Maria's point-of-view for the entire first half of the film, up to the point where she realizes she's in love with the Captain and she flees the Von Trapp home. The second half following the much-needed Intermission opens with Maria completely absent from the story, and these scenes while succeeding in their intended purpose, to make us dislike the Baroness and hope she doesn't marry the Captain fall flat, and we're as happy to see Maria return as the children are. But as soon as she marries the Captain, Maria disappears. The story shifts to the Nazi subplot and the film is now all about the Captain saving his family. The message? When you marry a man when you "belong to him now," as Maria puts it you become the second banana. The husband is now the star of the movie of your life.
What's Weird About The Sound of Music.
A lot, actually.
- The Sound of Music really is all about sex. Maria is too feisty to be a good nun, and we see this not just through her constant singing and tardiness but also from her sensual nature. She flounces around the hillside when she should be in vespers, removing her widgen (or whatever it is they call that thing nuns wear on their heads) and basking in the sun and the air and the fresh, green grass. On her way to her new position as governess, Maria sings "I Have Confidence" while kicking up her heels and showing her underwear. On the Captain's return with his ladyfriend, the Baroness, Maria and the children tip over their rowboat and Maria greets the couple dripping wet, which the worldly Baroness does not fail to notice. She also spots the way Maria gets all moony and soft-focused when the Captain sings "Edelweiss" and the look the Captain gives the soft-focused Maria in return. And let's not overlook that "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" song: Liesl singing to Rolf "totally unprepared am I to face a world of men/Timid and shy and scared am I of things beyond my ken/ I need someone older and wiser telling me what to do " as she hoochies herself (dripping wet, do we sense a theme?) all over the gazebo.
- Which brings up another odd point the nuns refer to her as "a girl" when they sing "Maria," but she becomes positively matronly as soon as she takes on the role of governess and by film's end, going-on-seventeen-Liesl is calling her "Mother." The film (and most promotional and biographical information about the Von Trapps) shy away from the subject of the Von Trapps' age difference. Born in 1905, Maria entered a teachers' college at 16, then joined the abbey after graduation. She became governess to the Von Trapps while still a novitiate, at the age of 21. Two years later she married the Captain who was 47. By way of comparison, Julie Andrews was 30 when she played Maria in the film and Christopher Plummer was 38.
- The Sound of Music like most true stories adapted to stage and film throws historical accuracy to the winds. The film would have us believe that Maria came to work for the Von Trapps, immediately won their hearts by teaching them music, fell in love with the Captain and immediately married him then a month later returned from the honeymoon, sang in the Salzburg festival, and escaped from the Nazis over the hills into Switzerland all in the same day. The truth: Captain Von Trapp had financial difficulties in the early 1930s and lost all of the family's money, so they rented out rooms in their home. One of their boarders was a seminarian who taught the children to sing (he later escaped with the family when they fled Austria). They won a lot of music festivals and toured Europe quite a bit before the Nazis occupied Austria in 1938. And they escaped not by taking a symbolic hike over a mountain, but by taking a train to Italy and embarking on a concert tour. If they had tried to escape over the mountains, it would have done them no good Salzburg is on the German border, so they would have been escaping into Germany.
* * *
Fox's two-disc DVD release of The Sound of Music: 40th Anniversary Edition updates their previous "Five-Star Collection" set (released in 2000) with several new items, not least of which is a new transfer from restored materials. The most recent video source for The Sound of Music, a 1993 transfer, looked very good, and doubtless clean enough to please Laserdisc and early DVD collectors. However, this new anamorphic transfer (2.20:1) from a 2005 print restoration is markedly better, with deeper color saturation, photo-realistic tones, and virtually no collateral wear. Those who have Fox's previous DVD in their collection may choose to keep it for now, but serious Sound of Music fans will want to consider the upgrade. Audio also sounds excellent with a Dolby Digital 5.0 track reconstructed from the 70mm audio source, as well as a Dolby 2.0 stereo option.
Disc One of the set includes a new introduction from Julie Andrews (2 min.), while a commentary from director Robert Wise returns from the first edition, and Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr, Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes Von Trapp contribute a new track. Also found here is a "Singalong" feature with karaoke-style subtitles, as well as separate chapter selection by song titles (with a handy "play all" option).
Disc Two also includes a new introduction from Julie Andrews (2 min.), while new titles on board include the feature-length documentary My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers (93 min.), the featurettes "Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer: A Reminiscence" (19 min.), "On Location with The Sound of Music" hosted by Charmian Carr (22 min.), "From Liesl to Gretl: A 40th Anniversary Reunion" with all seven actors who played the Von Trapp children (33 min.), and "When You Know the Notes To Sing: A Singalong Phenomenon" (12 min.). Also here is the A&E Biography episode "The Von Trapp Family: Harmony and Discord" (46 min.), a restoration comparison, seven trailers, teasers and TV spots, and three stills galleries featuring storyboards, on-set photos, and promotional materials.
Fans will also want to note that some items from the "Five-Star" set have not returned, making it a potential collector's item. Among these are the 87-min. documentary The Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon, audio supplements by screenwriter Ernest Lehman and actor Daniel Truhitte, and the 1965 documentary "Salzburg Sight and Sound" with Charmian Carr.
- Anamorphic transfer (2.20:1)
- Two single-sided, single-layered discs
- Dolby Digital 5.0 (English), Dolby 2.0 stereo (English, French, Spanish)
- Commentary by Robert Wise
- Commentary by Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr, Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes Von Trapp
- "Singalong" subtitles with chapter-selection
- Documentary: My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers (93 min.)
- Featurette: "Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer: A Reminiscence" (19 min.)
- Featurette: "On Location with The Sound of Music" hosted by Charmian Carr (22 min.)
- Featurette: "From Liesl to Gretl: A 40th Anniversary Reunion" (33 min.)
- Featurette: "When You Know the Notes To Sing: A Singalong Phenomenon" (12 min.)
- A&E Biography "The Von Trapp Family: Harmony and Discord" (46 min.)
- Restoration comparison
- Seven trailers, teasers, and TV spots
- Three stills galleries featuring storyboards, on-set photos, and promotional materials
- Dual-DVD slimline keep-case
[Back to Review Index] [Back to Quick Reviews] [Back to Main Page]