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The Sound of Music (1965)

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Article 1

 'The Sound of Music' Opens at Rivoli

by Bosley Crowther

The New York Times, March 3, 1965

THE fact that "The Sound of Music" ran for three and a half years on Broadway, despite the perceptible weakness of its quaintly old-fashioned book, was plainly sufficient assurance for the producer-director Robert Wise to assume that what made it popular in the theater would make it equally popular on the screen. That was a cheerful abundance of kirche-küche-kinder sentiment and the generally melodic felicity of the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein 2d musical score.

As a consequence, the great-big color movie Mr. Wise has made from it, and which was given a great-big gala opening at the Rivoli last night, comes close to being a careful duplication of the show as it was done on the stage, even down to its operetta pattern, which predates the cinema age.

To be sure, Mr. Wise has used his cameras to set a magnificently graphic scene in and around the actual city of Salzburg that lies nestled in the Austrian Alps. By means of a helicopter, he zooms over the snow-capped peaks and down into the green and ochre region, just as he zoomed down into New York's crowded streets in his memorable film of "West Side Story" (which was considerably different from this).

He has used the handsome Frohnburg Castle to represent the exterior of the home of the ample Von Trapp family, whose prettified story is told, and he has also used such colorful landmarks as Nonnberg Abbey, the Mirabell Gardens and the Mozart Bridge.

The scene of the music festival at the climax is the famous Pelsenreitschule or Rocky Riding School, with its heavy arched tunnels cut out of the precipitous mountainside. And, of course, he has soared to those alpine meadows with their dizzying and breathtaking views on occasions when there's a particularly joyous and air-filling song to be sung.

Furthermore, he has Julie Andrews to play—and sing—the role of the postulant nun who leaves the abbey to try her hand at being governess to the seven children of the widowed Captain Von Trapp—and remains, after the standard digressions, to become their stepmother. And it is she who provides the most apparent and fetching innovation in the film.

Miss Andrews, with her air of radiant vigor, her appearance of plain-Jane wholesomeness and her ability to make her dialogue as vivid and appealing as she makes her songs, brings a nice sort of Mary Poppins logic and authority to this role, which is always in peril of collapsing under its weight of romantic nonsense and sentiment.

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.

Does she sense that it is really silly to find a chorus of twittering nuns considering what's to be done about her in a bright musical-comedy song? Does she feel her first exchanges with the children of the cruelly domineering Von Trapp to be conversational gambits that could only take place in a play? And does she know (as we do) that the business with the captain and the wealthy baroness is right out of Victor Herbert operetta, circa 1910?

Of course she does. And she also seems to realize that the whole thing is being staged by Mr. Wise in a cosy-cum-corny fashion that even theater people know is old hat. But she goes at it happily and bravely. She even pulls the pack of children into her bed and drowns out the noise of crashing thunder with the optimistic "My Favorite Things" and marches them through the streets of Salzburg happily howling the juvenile "Do-Re-Mi."

Miss Andrews is nothing daunted. She plays a more saccharine nanny than Mary Poppins, but it doesn't get her goat.

Her associates cannot be so commended. The septet of blond and beaming youngsters who have to act like so many Shirley Temples and Freddie Bartholomews when they were young do as well as could be expected with their assortedly artificial roles, but the adults are fairly horrendous, especially Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp.

Looking as handsome and phony as a store-window Alpine guide, Mr. Plummer acts the hard-jawed, stiff-backed fellow with equal artificiality. And when he puts his expressions and his gestures to somebody else's singing of the wistful "Eidelweiss" (which, incidentally, was the last song that the late Mr. Hammerstein wrote), it is just a bit too painfully mawkish for the simple sentiments of that nice song.

Richard Haydn is conventionally histrionic with his grimaces and his rolling r's as the comical impresario who tries to sign the singing Von Trapps, and Eleanor Parker is highly enameled and just as brittle as the baroness. Peggy Wood as the mother abbess beams beningly beneath her cowl, but she blessedly turns away from the camera when somebody with a much younger voice—maybe Marni Nixon — sings "Climb Every Mountain" for her.

Incidentally, the famous Miss Nixon, who provides Audrey Hepburn's singing voice in "My Fair Lady," turns up in this picture as one of the covey of singing nuns, all of whom act with the familiar cheeriness and poker-faced innocence of nuns in films. Charmian Carr as the oldest daughter, who has a crush on an embryo Nazi (Daniel Truhitte), dances rather sweetly but that's all to the "16 Going on 17" song.

Mentionable, too, is a pleasant little Bil and Cora Baird puppet show done to "The Lonely Goatherd," which was used for an Alpine ballet on the stage.

Even though a couple of new songs have been added (both forgettable), Mr. Wise seems to run out of songs toward the end of the picture and repeat two or three of the more familiar ones. But the same must be said of "The Sound of Music." It repeats, in style — and in theme.

However, its sentiments are abundant. Businesswise, Mr. Wise is no fool.

© 1965 The New York Times

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