The Case is Alive (With the Sound of Music) Part 1

In 1965, one of the most popular and influential movie musicals premiered. It was based on a musical by the legendary duo Rogers and Hammerstein, and directed by the same man that brought us the groundbreaking film West Side Story. The film starred film-newcomer Julie Andrews, and a young Christopher Plummer, as their characters fell in love in “the last golden days of the 30’s.” 

The Sound of Music changed film forever. Since its release, it’s estimated to have been seen by over a billion people. It has sold more tickets domestically than any other film, besides Gone With the Wind and Star Wars (not dollars, tickets). It’s a story filled with indomitable spirit, and portrays the healing power of music. The Sound of Music has brought countless families together since its release, and is still delighting audiences to this day. 

As Musical May comes to a close, we’re covering one of the biggest musicals to ever hit the silver screen. So big, actually, that we couldn’t cover it all in one episode. This will be only part one, with part two coming your way next week. So, OF COURSE, we will start at the very beginning, we hear it’s a very good place to start. 

We won’t go too far into the real story, but we will talk about the real Maria, and some of the key differences between the film and what actually happened. 

  • It may surprise you to know that Maria Von Trapp was in fact a real person, and the story you see in the film is very loosely based on a true story. And we mean VERY loosely based. When director Robert Wise took on the project, he specifically didn’t focus on any of the differences between the stage play and Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography. He believed it was his job to adapt the play, and that knowing how inaccurate the details were, would only hold him down throughout the process. 
  • Maria Kutschera (Co-CHAIR-uh) was actually raised an atheist, and changed her religious views as a young woman. She became a nun at the Nonnberg Abbey, and left for a year to visit the Von Trapp Villa to aid one of the children there that had suffered Scarlet Fever. According to Maria’s youngest son, Maria came to tutor his sister since she wasn’t strong enough to walk to school with the other children. 
  • The children loved Maria so much, they asked their father to have her stay. According to The Sound of Music website, they asked their father to marry her. His response was, “I don’t even know if she likes me.” 
    • One of the biggest differences between the real Captain Von Trapp and his fictional counterpart was that he was actually a very warm and loving man from the beginning. According to his children, he was strict, and their house was very structured. He did in fact use whistles to signal to the children as the movie suggests, but he never made them line up in a military style. 
  • The couple married in the late 1920’s, and lived in Austria right as Hitler rose to power in 1938. In this time, they had two more children together, and fled to America with a third on the way. 
  • Some aspects of the film are true, for example the family did win first prize at a choral competition in the Salzburg Festival. But, that didn’t happen just as they fled the country. And one of the film’s biggest differences from the real story is the ending, as the family left by train and did not climb over the alps to freedom. 
    • The ending of the movie did receive criticism, as the family’s plan to escape to Switzerland would not work if they went over the alps. As the real Maria Von Trapp pointed out, they would have ended up in Germany if they had gone that way. 
  • After arriving in America, the family traveled the country as a singing group. They eventually settled in Vermont, and the captain passed away in 1947. In 1949, Maria published a memoir that detailed her life before and after joining the Von Trapp family. This was the basis for the musical.


  • Richard Rogers was a brilliant composer that had a very successful career with his longtime partner, Lorenz Hart. Together, the two of them worked on over 40 productions until Hart’s death in the 1940’s. In search of a new partner, Rogers contacted a school acquaintance, Oscar Hammerstein. Rogers’ experience with musical comedy worked well when paired with Hammerstein’s operetta style. The men created many hit musicals, like Oklahoma, Cinderella, and The King and I. The Sound of Music was their last production together. 
  • The Sound of Music premiered in November of 1959. It starred Broadway legend Mary Martin in the lead role, and ran for almost 1500 performances, winning 5 Tony Awards. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse wrote the book that would be adapted into a film.   


  • The nuns at Nonnburg Abbey are at a loss with what to do with their problematic postulant, Maria. Mother Abbess, the leader of the community, asks Maria to travel to the Von Trapp Villa, the home of a wealthy Navy Captain and his seven children. She is to be their Governess, although she has never looked after children before. Although they have a rocky relationship at the start, Maria quickly warms the hearts of the entire family, and teaches the children how to sing. She and the Captain fall in love, just as Hitler begins to take over Austria. 


  • The Sound of Music was directed by Robert Wise, a legendary film director that worked on titles like, “West Side Story,” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” He shot on 65mm film and planned to only shoot on location for 6 weeks, which turned into 11 weeks because of intermittent rain. 
    • Much of the film was shot on location in Salzburg. 
  • Ernest Lehman wrote the adapted screenplay, making many changes from the stage production. Many of these changes included changing where the songs were located in the film. For example, “My Favorite Things” was originally sung by Maria while she was at the Abbey, not when she was with the children. Decisions like this really elevated the story and helped the music work better into a film format.  
    • The script was very song heavy, with not as much attention on the characters and story. Lehman changed that, and added a lot of depth to The Captain specifically. There was one instance where he locked himself in a room with Christopher Plummer, as he was trying to write the scene where his character said goodbye to the Baroness for the final time. Plummer suggested that Lehman write something similar to a scene in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Plummer felt that Lehman didn’t know what he meant, but he wrote something great anyway. 
  • Saul Wurtzel designed the sets for the film, which were seamlessly edited with locations. For the opening with the Abbey, they were not allowed to even go inside the actual location, and could only get outside shots. So, Wurtzel visited Abbeys all over the country and built a set based on what he found. He was incredibly detailed, even adding moisture to the bricks of the courtyard. 
    • Some sets were actually built in Austria instead of Hollywood, so the actors could run inside and shoot indoor scenes when the weather was bad. Many scenes in the film were shot over the course of several weeks. For example, when Maria is first meeting with Mother Abbess, that was shot in small pieces over a long period of time. The same for when Maria and The Captain have their fight after the children fall in the lake. 
  • Ted McCord was the cinematographer for the film, and had worked with Robert Wise in the past. In many of the film’s scenes, it was actually raining while they needed to shoot. So, they would put a tarp over the actors to keep them dry, and McCord had to match the lighting under the tarp with the light outdoors. 


  • Songs
    1. The Sound of Music
      • The opening shot of the film is the most iconic. We see some establishing shots of the Austrian landscape, until we pan over a wide open field and Maria singing with her arms outstretched. This opening was the last thing shot on location in Bavaria. 
      • When they originally scouted the location, they asked the farmers that owned the land not to mow the tall grass. When they showed up, the grass had been mowed. The pond in the scene was crafted by the crew, as there was no pond for her to jump over. One angry farmer stabbed the lining of the stream with a pitchfork and drained all the water!
      • The cast and crew all hid in the trees and bushes along the landscape, and Julie was out there all alone. Cameraman Paul Beeson was the only crewmember brave enough to ride outside of the helicopter, as he was strapped to the side with the film camera. Julie walked toward the helicopter and did her memorable turn as she started singing, and the backdraft of the helicopter knocked her down every time. 
      • The trees that she walks past were chopped from somewhere else and stuck into the ground. 
    2. Morning Hymn/ Alleluia
      • The shot where the nuns are all singing Alleluia in a row was the only one done within an actual chapel and not a sound stage.
      • The film was choreographed by then-married Dee Dee White and Marc Breaux. White said that every movement in the Abbey from the beginning until the first song, was choreographed. 
        • The costume designer is actually in this scene, as a nun with a hand on her face. 
    3. Maria
      • This scene features Marni Nixon, the woman that provided the singing voices for Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady! Robert Wise said that they wanted to honor her by giving her some screen time in this film.
      • Mother Abbess, played by Peggy Wood, also does not sing her part here. Wise wanted her in the film because she was a wonderful stage actress, but the singing was too much for her at this point in her life, as she was in her 70’s. 
      • The choreographers rehearsed this scene while wearing the nun habits, so they had an understanding of how a nun could move in the costume. 
    4. I Have Confidence
      • The cast and crew got a special visit from Maria Von Trapp and one of her granddaughters during filming this song. The pair were so impressed and happy with the set and everything that they wanted to appear in the film. Robert Wise was able to sneak them into the shot but they are hard to see if you are not looking for them! They appear behind Maria in the shot with the fountain.
      • This was a song written specifically for the movie. Wise felt it was a great interpretation of how Maria described this moment in her book. 
      • Julie Andrews actually had a little trouble with one of the lines, thinking that it didn’t make sense. It was, “strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers.” She decided to sing that part of the song quickly, as if she were rambling, that way she didn’t have to think too much about how it sounded. 
    5. Sixteen Going on Seventeen
      • The scene was actually shot during the daytime, since it costs much more to have a crew stay into the night. The cinematographer and the rest of the crew had to make the scene look like it took place at night for this reason. 
      • This was the absolute last scene shot for the movie. During filming they forgot to cover her shoes in rubber. This caused her to slip and fall through one of the windows, hurting her ankle. They wrapped it up and painted the bandage the color of her tights and finished the shoot. 
      • As Liesl is running towards the Gazebo it is a Gazebo that was built in Salzburg. When they are dancing and close to it it is actually on the soundstage in California. The production team ended up leaving the gazebo in Salzburg as a sort of gift and Salzburg moved it to a public park where many travel just to see it. 
    6. My Favorite Things
      • This song was moved from its original spot in the stage play. In the play the children take a liking to Maria immediately but screenplay writer, Ernest Lehman, felt that it would be more endearing if they warmed up to her. He therefore changed it so the children had a dislike of her in the beginning and so he needed a scene where she could bond with them. This bonding experience became the thunderstorm coupled with My Favorite Things.
      • The scene just before this one, and this song were the first sequences shot for the movie. As Leisl appears in the window, she is covered in water and dirt that the production team had sprayed on her. 
      • In the musical the song is fully sung but for the movie Julie Andrews was told to begin speaking the first line or two before beginning to sing. This was to ensure a smooth transition.
    7. Do-Re-Mi
      • This song was originally supposed to be right when Maria arrived. 
      • In the beginning of the scene, Wise asked one of the boys to throw his ball high into the air, as a way to show the audience the beautiful mountain landscape. 
      • Julie Andrews actually didn’t know how to play guitar, and she felt uncomfortable holding it. She faked it as best as she could. 
      • Julie felt like this song was the quintessential song for the film, because it showed the country so well. There were very many location shots, and they traveled all over Salzburg to get them. This scene is also important because it’s when the children learn to sing, which would become the reason that the captain warms up to them again. 
      • Right after this song, we see the first real signs of trouble with the nazi invasion. After a brief conversation about politics, The Captain gets upset. When the Baroness makes a remark that he seems far away and asks him where he is, he replies, “In a world that’s disappearing, I’m afraid.” 
    8. The Sound of Music (Reprise) 
      • One thing this film does really well is its reprises. In this scene, The Sound of Music returns as the children sing it for the Baroness. When The Captain comes into the room, the children start to cry. It was incredibly emotional on set, even for the director. The children finally feel like he’s coming back into their lives for the first time since they lost their mother. 
        • The Captain says to Maria, “You brought music back into my house.” And he asks her to stay, even though they had just had a fight about the way she’s behaving with the children. 
    9. The Lonely Goatherd
      • This song was also moved by Ernest Lehman from the thunderstorm scene.
      • The Salzburg Marionette Theatre influenced the puppetry during this song. The theater originally performed operas with their marionettes. In 2007 they made a mini production of The Sound of Music! It has now toured the world.
      • Years later in “The Julie Andrews Hour,” Julie Andrews welcomed the real Maria Von Trapp as a guest. Although Maria said she liked Julie’s performance in the film, she felt she needed a little more yodelling practice. Maria then proceeded to give her yodeling lessons. 
    1. Edelweiss
      • Originally, this song was only sung near the end of the film at the festival where the family performs. Ernest Lehman moved this number as well, to great effect. 
      • Christopher Plummer hated playing the guitar. He was used to playing piano, and didn’t want to learn the new instrument because it was so painful to play. 
      • This was Julie Andrews’ favorite song in the film, and the favorite of many of the actors.
      • Plummer did not do his own singing for the film, and Bill Lee’s voice was dubbed in. It was a big moment for the film because it’s the first and only time the captain sings alone, and the flower Edelweiss has such a strong connection to Austria. 
    2. So Long, Farewell
      • So Long, Farewell is one of the few diagetic songs in the film. Just before and after this song, there are some key plot moments happening. 
      • Before the song, the children and Maria are dancing a traditional Austrian folk dance. The choreographers studied many dances to create a dance for the scene, just before The Captain arrives to dance with Maria. 
      • Julie Andrews said that the scene felt as magical as it looked. It was a wonderful experience to shoot, and is the exact moment that the two characters discover that they have fallen in love. 
      • Dee Dee White said that she didn’t realize how instrumental the scene was to the story until she saw it on screen. 
      • So Long, Farewell is a fun little song that appears again later in the movie. When Gretl lies on the stairs, the actress that played Leisl had to come pick her up. She said that she hurt her back carrying her up the steps. 
      • Just after the song, the Baroness visits Maria, and points out to her that she and The Captain are in love. This leads to Maria leaving and heading back to the Abbey.
      • In real life, she only left to discuss what she should do with Mother Abbess, after The Captain had proposed. 

Since this is where the intermission happens in the film, we’re gonna have an intermission of our own. 

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