The Sound of Music

This year is the 50th anniversary of the theatrical release of The Sound of Music. This was one of last things to come out of the Old Hollywood studio system which was broken apart first by anti-trust laws and later by the advent of TV. The tattered remains of Hollywood were then occupied by the communists and nihilists of the late 1960’s who proceeded to destroy whatever artistic foundations remained. Hollywood is completely incapable of producing a movie of this artistic quality and beauty today. Everyone, I think, feels the loss.

The Sound of Music became the highest grossing film of its time, bringing in $286,214,076 worldwide ($2.366 billion in 2014 dollars), finally displacing Gone With the Wind. The film was adapted from a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical that opened in 1959 and starred Mary Martin. I’ve listened to the recordings of Mary, and I have to say Julie Andrews is much, much better. That’s probably because it was near the end of Mary’s career, which began in 1939, and Julie Andrews, age 30, was at the peak of her ability. She did a spectacular job in this film and I still get it out once in awhile to revel in its music and beauty.

It was directed by Robert Wise: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), West Side Story (1961), The Sand Pebbles (1966) The Andromeda Strain (1971), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). A young Robert Wise edited Citizen Kane.

The critical reception, from Wikipedia…I had to laugh at the NYT getting it completely wrong, even back then:

The film had its opening premiere on March 2, 1965 at the Rivoli Theater in New York City. Initial reviews were mixed. Bosley Crowther, in The New York Times, criticized the film’s “romantic nonsense and sentiment”, the children’s “artificial roles”, and Robert Wise’s “cosy-cum-corny” direction. Judith Crist, in a biting review in the New York Herald Tribune, dismissed the movie as “icky sticky” and designed for “the five to seven set and their mommies”. Wise later recalled, “The East Coast intellectual papers and magazines destroyed us, but the local papers and the trades gave us great reviews. “Indeed, reviewers such as Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times described the film as “three hours of visual and vocal brilliance”, and Daily Variety called it “a warmly-pulsating, captivating drama set to the most imaginative use of the lilting R-H tunes, magnificently mounted and with a brilliant cast”.

The movie is a celebration of love, of family, of the beauty of the world on a summer day, and the importance of family and friendship in the worst of times. That “The East Coast intellectuals” would completely miss that, well, it doesn’t surprise me in the least.

20 thoughts on “The Sound of Music”

  1. IIRC originally Wm Wyler was offered the director’s job and Wyler, who had to flee the Nazis, said that he wanted nothing to do with a movie that had singing Nazis.

    I am wondering too has the movie demographic changed such that a movie like this couldn’t be made today? The audience is mainly 16 year olds?

    I started becoming a fan of classical Hollywood due to a friend who is a cinimaphile – with a 1,000 movie collection from the 30s – and Robert Avrech who has a wonderful blog called Seraphic Secret.

    I am amused a lot of times because the makers of a movie many times produce a hit and they don’t know why – or as the great screenwriter Wm Goldman said in his book with a chapter entitled “Nobody Knows Nothin'”

    Case in point – I was watching tonight the Blu Ray version of Caddyshack – and Harold Ramis gave a wonderful interview on the making of the movie. Originally, as you can tell by the title, it was to be centered around golf caddies.

    Well, by the time the 4 main stars got going, there were many “centers” – not the least of which were Rodney Dangerfield and the hilarious ad-libbing of Bill Murray…

    It was in the editing room that they still had a hard time deciding what to cut and it was the addition of more scenes from the gopher – originally a hand puppet but post-production they enlisted the aid of a man who helped greatly in Star Wars – more gopher shots and the “spine” of the movie was in place.

    Well, I am rambling but like The Sound of Music the critics panned it but the public loved it and over time it just grew in popularity.

  2. Amazon made an original series of Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novel ‘The Man in the High Castle’. I haven’t seen it (after reading ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ I had my fill of Dick’s depressing themes), but they’re using a somber version of ‘Edelweiss’ for the opening credits

    It’s a real credit to the great, great original song and the movie, grounded in erstwhile longing and ancestral sanctuary, that this reworking probably tells you everything you need to know about the show.

  3. Never know what the Boyz will serve up here. I think of my late Mother, and how she loved this film. Going to the movies was still an event for us then, and I remember seeing it on the big screen “in town” (pre-mall era).

  4. It is not just Hollywood that changed. Look at the musical theater. After the 1960 season, it too went into decline. The torch was passed from the Missionary generation past the Silents to the “Greatest” Generation who, exhausted by depression, world war, and the babies they produced, hadn’t the energy to resist the left and keep the country on track. I have found it curious that the only president of the Greatest generation to complete two full terms was Reagan, while the boomers produced a succession of three two termers for the first time since the Jeffersonians. It is difficult to decide which trio was worse. And now we appear ready to anoint our own Jackson.

  5. >>Wyler, who had to flee the Nazis, said that he wanted nothing to do with a movie that had singing Nazis.

    It’s been a while since I’ve watched this, but I don’t recall any singing Nazis. Maybe the whole subject was one one he didn’t want to think about or face assuming he (and his family?) lost everything and everyone they knew. Probably the only two emotions he could muster was longing and anger and that wasn’t going to work for this film. He was probably right to pass on it, he’d have done it badly.

    >>I am wondering too has the movie demographic changed such that a movie like this couldn’t be made today? The audience is mainly 16 year olds?

    That question made me think for a while. I think the demographic changed after the system was broken. From the mid-60’s back to the 30’s and 40’s, everyone went to the movies, so Hollywood produced films for that entire audience. As Mrs. Davis says, the same people who would’ve bought tickets to vaudeville or the musical theater would’ve bought tickets to a movie like this. My parents were of the Depression-WWII era and they bought tickets in the 60’s to Broadway productions that still toured and played in regional theaters. They occasionally took us along if they’d seen it once, wanted to see it again, and wanted us to see it too. Usually, though, when they did something like that it was a night out for them together. They loved doing things like that but could only afford it now and then. They also took us to movies like this. So same demographic. Today, those people are watching HBO.

  6. >>When I was in Salzburg twenty years ago, I did not go on the Sound of Music tour but there was one and there may still be one that visits the locations.

    Yes, there are Sherlock Holmes tours in London that popular too. People want to experience it for themselves, first hand. My oldest daughter was in Austria some years ago and still says it’s the most beautiful place she’s ever seen.

  7. We started watching The Man in the High Castle, and put it aside after three episodes. Too bloody depressing, although beautifully cast, and produced.

    The other thing about the movies, back in the day, Michael – was that the studio system had its’ efficiencies. Stock company of performers, in-house production talent, the whole thing. They could turn out movies assembly-line fashion. Say, they put out a hundred movies a year, and spent about the same amount on all, fifteen of those movies being a smashing success, and the rest broke even or maybe didn’t do well right away … the studio still came out ahead of the game. They could afford to be at least a little experimental with source materiel, or style … because if that movie clicked with the audience and hit big, then all to the good. And if it sank at the box office, it wouldn’t sink the studio, because there were all those other studio productions that did OK, or won big.
    Nowadays, there is so much riding on a single movie production, they have to go with a sure thing, go big, go with expensive production values and established stars, because it HAS to be a success. If they take a risk, go experimental… and it sinks, the investors are screwed. Best they can hope for is a prestigious award for showing to empty theaters.

  8. @Michael – Kurt, for one (Liesel’s boyfriend) – Gawd, I can remember this stuff 20 years after I last saw it? ;-)

    @Sgt Mom – the Studio system had its good points and bad points – James Garner in his autobiography The Garner Files was lamenting how he was being paid peanuts on Maverick despite being a huge hit. And Jack Warner wouldn’t budge. Could talk more about this but gotta get to my dentist :-)

  9. DM, I’m not sure My Fair Lady was better, just different. I like them both. The thing I most remember about MFL is how incredibly beautiful and sexy Audrey Hepburn was.

    BB, Liesel’s boyfriend? He was a teenager! Easily swayed by the prevailing climate. I hold the senior cadre responsible, not kids.

    David, yes, thank you.

  10. Michael: I want you to know that I completely agree with you that:

    “Hollywood is completely incapable of producing a movie of this artistic quality and beauty today. Everyone, I think, feels the loss.”

    Just a couple of comments on the History. The anti-trust prosecution was in the 1940s. The culmination was in a Supreme Court judgment that was handed down in 1948. I think the creation of network television was far more damaging to Hollywood, than the law was. It shattered the audience that Hollywood had found in the 1930s.

    Much of the violent and sexual content of the 1960s came from deliberate attempts to create content that was TV-proof. It also explains the prevalence, even now, of down lighting, that TVs have real trouble with.

    As for the Commies, they were run out of Hollywood by HUAC in the late 1940s. By the late 50’s, many of them, such as Trumbo,* had crawled back out from under their rocks. I think it is hard to blame Hollywood’s artistic decline on communists. The old commies were not your modern Gramiscian Marxists, they were Industrial Grade Stalinists. They did not have theories about culture, and many of them were good cinematic craftsmen.

    *I think a cross between Donald Trump and the cartoon elephant Dumbo.

    As for SoM, the movie. In the 1980s we taped it off the air. Our girls who are now in their 30s, watched it almost daily for a couple of years. I have not recovered yet.

  11. “there are Sherlock Holmes tours in London that popular too.”

    I’ve been to the Sherlock Holmes Pub, which is at the location of the Northumberland Hotel where Sir Henry Baskerville has his boot stolen.

    I was in London two months ago and was not far away but it was raining and we ducked into a closer pub.

    We have done the Jack the Ripper Tour, the walking version.

    We used to go to London every year about this time and book several shows in the West End. I would rather fly a few more hours than go to New York. We saw Starlight Express and Cats in London and they were terrific. We also saw Evita there.

  12. This is where we saw Starlight Express. It was incredible.

    The show opened at the Apollo Victoria in London on 27th March 1984, taking the revolutionary approach of building a race track all the way around the auditorium. In April 1991 Starlight Express became the second longest running musical in London theatre history at that time.

    I don;t even know if that theater is still there. It was an incredible spectacle.

    We saw Cats the year it opened in 1981. The theater was small and had been a TV studio. We went back with six teenagers in 1984 and it was still terrific. Now, we seem to have missed a revival.

    I saw Les Miserables there a few years later but it was nothing like the AL Weber shows.

  13. One year when I was visiting my brother and his family, we saw a production of The Sound of Music that a local church put on. Some next door neighbors of my 10 year old niece were in the cast. To my admittedly untutored ear, all of the adult cast save one had professional quality voices. In addition, it was easy to get caught in the enjoyment that the children in the cast had in performing their parts. It was a fine performance- a performance which evidently affected my niece. Fifteen years later, when touring Europe with her future husband, they turned a substantial part of of their tour into visiting sites which had been part of the Sound of Music story.

    I remember Mad Magazine came out with a satire titled The Sound of Money.

  14. >>Mad Magazine came out with a satire titled The Sound of Money.

    I used to read Mad Magazine when I was a kid. They did some funny satires. For some reason I remember the movie satire “Botch Casually & the Somedunce Kid” I laughed through the entire thing.

  15. In the town of Cong, County Mayo, Ireland, they are still doing tours of the locations seen in the 1952 John Ford movie “The Quiet Man”, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. My wife and I were there in 2008, but didn’t do the tour, as we were both unfamiliar with the movie. Pretty little town.

  16. I dearly love this movie and “Mary Poppins” for the sheer delight of Julie Andrews’ voice. And it is obviously a beautiful movie in every scene.

    And one thing that seems to be often overlooked: there’s this sex scene in it that is entirely suitable for the entire family but it is H, O, T, hot: when the Captain and Maria are dancing the Lindler (?) out on the patio. I melt every time I see it.

    “My Fair Lady” doesn’t hold a candle to it, chiefly because of the incompetence of Audrey Hepburn who, in a movie where accents are the hook on which the story is hung, could not hold on to a British one to save her life and kept ending up sounding vaguely “continental.” And don’t you wish you could have heard Julie Andrews, who played Eliza on Broadway, sing those songs? Needless to say, I have the Broadway soundtrack, not the movie.

  17. And one thing that seems to be often overlooked: there’s this sex scene in it that is entirely suitable for the entire family but it is H, O, T, hot: when the Captain and Maria are dancing the Lindler (?) out on the patio. I melt every time I see it.

    Let’s call that the courtship scene. I agree there are very strong sexual overtones to the whole thing. I certainly think the actors felt it, they seemed very strongly attracted to each other.

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