Being the smart-ass kid I was, I never took The Sound of Music seriously. Something about that beginning image of twirling on an Austrian hilltop immediately turned me away. Yet I had a deep love for Mary Poppins. Now that I have finally seen The Sound of Music entirely as an adult, my old cynical outlook has been broken. Not only are the songs better than I remember, but the singing is not too frequent. Plus, there’s Nazis and nuns. How could I have so easily written that off fifteen or so years ago?
The story takes place in Austria, where Maria (Julie Andrews) is a novice at the local convent, but is far too much of a free spirit to be a good nun. She is assigned to become the governess for Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), a retired Naval officer and widower with seven children. When Maria arrives at the Von Trapp residence, the Captain has his children so disciplined they are whistle trained. Even worse, the children have already been through eleven governesses; they seem to torture the women for fun and attention. Right away, Maria starts shaking up the children’s routine, behaving more like a friend to the eldest child, Liesl (Charmian Carr), and comforting the children when a thunderstorm frightens them. Soon she’s got the whole troop in comfy play-clothes, has taught them to sing (seven notes for seven children, that’s rich) and is unknowingly warming her way into the Captain’s heart.
Now for the Nazis. It is the thirties with Hitler on the rise. The Captain is trying to just remain neutral and stay out of the mess, but soon he’s in trouble for not flying the Nazi flag. Then Liesl’s love interest turns from the innocent telegram boy to the poster-child of Hitler youth. Next thing we know, the Captain is being drafted to lead the Nazi army and the entire family must try to leave Austria and head for the hills. This sort of action coming up between songs can brings a much harder edge than I had anticipated, and I loved it.
This film makes wonderful use of the beautiful scenery. With the setting in the quaint hills and mountains of Austria, this is essential. Anyone who’s ever seen Austrian or Switzerland mountains, even just on a postcard, can appreciate the spectacular beauty this landscape brings to the screen. The film begins with these images to get us into the right frame of mind and it works.
Honestly, if you find yourself with a narrow minded kid like the former me, try to make him/her give The Sound of Music a chance. They may not admit it, but if you make them watch and point out the Nuns vs Nazis, they are bound to enjoy it. Finally, you should not compare, but if you must, The Sound of Music is a less magical form of Mary Poppins. Really, it’s just silly to believe in magic and Nazis at the same time.
“I haven’t had so much fun since the day we put glue on Fräulein Josephine’s toothbrush.”