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The Sound of Music (1965)

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Page 8
The Von Trapps sing at the festival

At the festival, held at an extraordinary outdoor concert hall called the Pelsenreitschule, or Rocky Riding School, the Von Trapps reprise such family favorites as "Do, a Deer" and "So Long, Farewell."  Then, in the culmination of the film's unity-through-music theme, Captain von Trapp takes the guitar and leads both his family and the audience in a love song which, in the intervening years, has often come to be confused for the national anthem of Austria, but was in truth, an original song written for THE SOUND OF MUSIC by Rodgers and Hammerstein -- "Edelweiss":

"Edelweiss.  Edelweiss.  Every morning you greet me.  Small and white.  Clean and bright.  You look happy to meet me.  Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever.  Edelweiss. Edelweiss. Bless my homeland forever."

The national anthem of Austria during the 1930s was actually an imperial anthem entitled "Kaiserlied" which had been composed in the 18th century by Josef Haydn and carried forward into the post-World War I republic from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In 1922 however, the tune was adopted by Germany as the basis for its own anthem, "Lied der Deutschen," and retained throughout the Nazi regime of World War II.  After the war, the new federal government of Austria outlawed the old anthem because of its Nazi connotations and held a competition to choose a new "Federal Anthem" based on a tune thought to have been written by another famous Austrian composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Thus, with all the post-war confusion and political controversy still engendered by Europe's pre-war and wartime anthems, it is easy to understand why Rodgers and Hammerstein chose to write their own.

The abbey graveyard

After their performance at the festival, the Von Trapps manage to elude their Nazi escorts and take refuge at Nonnberg Abbey where the mother abbess informs them that the borders have been closed.  She hides them in the abbey graveyard moments before the dogged Nazis arrive in hot pursuit.  Bestowing upon Maria a few final words of wisdom before the climactic game of hide and seek, the Reverend Mother reminds her of the opening verse of the psalm:

1I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
2My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
3He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. 
5The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
8The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
            (The Bible, Psalm 121, King James Version)

Escaping over the mountains

Once again, taking a few dramatic liberties with geography, the Von Trapps eventually set out over the mountains on foot, ostensibly for freedom in Switzerland on the other side.  The future that awaits them is uncertain, but they are together and they have each other.

"Climb every mountain" (a .MOV file courtesy 20th Century Fox).

Still reeling from the financial failure of CLEOPATRA (1963), 20th Century-Fox mortgaged most of its future on THE SOUND OF MUSIC's $8 million budget in 1964 and relied on a road-show national release strategy for the film after its world premier at New York's Rivoli Theater on March 2, 1965.  This meant that the film was initially released in a limited number of select theaters across the United States (each equipped with 70mm screens and six-track stereophonic sound) to moviegoers paying premium ticket prices for reserved seats.  The road show strategy increased the prestige of the picture and created an atmosphere of interest and anticipation preceding its general release in theatres across the country -- a release that would last an unprecedented (and since, unmatched) 57 months.  During that time, although critical reception of the film was mixed, audience reaction was overwhelming.  THE SOUND OF MUSIC attracted extraordinary repeat business, playing in some theaters for more than a year, and became America's biggest movie phenomenon since GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), not to mention one of the highest grossing films of all-time.  For 20th Century-Fox, it marked one of the most dramatic financial turn-arounds in the studio's history, and in the years since, it has become the most successful movie musical in the world, having been translated and dubbed into dozens of languages.

Critics of THE SOUND OF MUSIC most often deride it as saccharine and manipulative.  The heroes -- children, nuns -- are too fundamentally good, while the villains -- Nazis -- are almost stereotypically bad.  Furthermore, they argue, even perfectly happy families don't sit around and sing together.  But the reality is that this one did.  To label the Von Trapp family's story as manipulative because it is portrayed onscreen as dramatic and inspirational is unfair when it really happened.  The condensed timeline and addition of theatrical details by the filmmakers do not alter the essence of the story, which remains one of family relationships, the power of music, and courage in the face of evil.  It is these universal human qualities which first attracted audiences to THE SOUND OF MUSIC in 1965 and have since kept them returning for generations.

The Von Trapp Family

The Von Trapp Family: Gretl (Kym Karath), Marta (Debbie Turner), Brigitta (Angela Cartwright), Kurt (Duane Chase), Louisa (Heather Manzies), Fredrick (Nicholas Hammond), Leisl (Charmain Carr), Maria (Julie Andrews), and Georg (Christopher Plummer).

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Last updated: June 21, 2010.
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