The Case is Alive (With the Sound of Music) Part 2

So how do you solve a problem like covering the Sound of Music? Well, you cut your episode into two parts, of course! Last week we covered the first half of the film, ending at intermission. We last saw the Von Trapps at their party, with the children singing a farewell song to the guests. After Maria discovers that she and the captain were in love (with the help of the Baroness), she has returned to the Abbey. So, let’s pick up right where we left off, discussing the remaining songs in the film. 

SONGS

  • The Sound of Music (Reprise) 
    • The second half of the film opens at the exterior of the Von Trapp Villa. They couldn’t use the real house for the film, so they used the historical Frohnburg Palace! The building is actually a musical conservatory. They had to change a lot for the exterior, like adding gates and trimming shrubs/trees to make it look like a private home. 
    • “The Sound of Music” reappears several times in the film. This time, the children sing it to Uncle Max and the Baroness as they try to get over Maria’s departure. This scene illustrates how miserable the family is without her, especially the captain. We also see the Baroness struggle to connect with the children, even as the captain announces their engagement.
  • Climb Ev’ry Mountain
    • When the children come to see Maria at the Abbey, they pull a rope to alert the nuns that they are at the gate. That rope was a prop, but the abbey liked the prop so well, they asked to keep it. As far as everyone in the movie knows, it’s still there. 
    • When Robert Wise saw The Sound of Music, he felt that the performance of “Climb Every Mountain” was so powerful, it made him want to hide under his chair. Mother Abbess sang the song out toward the audience, which is common for a stage musical. He felt that for the screen, he needed to shoot a much more subtle performance. He knew that if the character sang into the lens, it would be too intense for a film. 
      • In the play, this is a huge, show-stopping number. For the film, it’s more like a quiet, guiding voice. Although she isn’t singing, the song is more about how Maria reacts to it, and so the camera focuses more on her. Never does Mother Abbess look into the camera as she sings, making the song feel more natural and passive. 
    • As we mentioned last week, Peggy Wood wasn’t able to do her own singing. Margery McKay provided the singing voice for Mother Abbess. 
    • Julie cried because the scene was so important for her character.
    • In the very beginning of this scene, Mother Abbess is welcoming a new postulant. When Maria returns to the children, she is wearing the street clothes of that woman!
  • Something Good
    • Christopher Plummer had a very difficult time playing Captain Von Trapp. He wanted to play the part in a cynical way, but the role called for him to be sentimental. He was with screenwriter Ernie Lehman when he wrote the scene just before “Something Good.” He felt that Ernie really deepened the relationships of the characters. 
    • This song takes place in and around the same gazebo as 16 going on 17, with much darker lighting, and little to no choreography. It’s a great way to represent the difference in maturity between the two songs. 
  • Processional/ Maria
    • The wedding of Maria and Captain Georg was filmed in the Basilica at Mondsee. It’s a very popular wedding venue today! 600 locals appeared in the scene to fill out the crowd, and the actual Bishop of the Abbey stood in as the officiant. The entire scene was all shot in one day, which was contrary to many of the other scenes.
      • In real life, they were married at the Nonnberg Abbey! 
    • Julie Andrews still considers this dress to be the most beautiful costume she has ever worn. 
    • The song we hear in this scene is a beautiful choral version of Maria. As we have said before, this film uses reprises to great effect. It’s a perfect call back to the nuns and their frustration with Maria early on in the film, and also serves as their way of saying goodbye to her. How do you solve a problem like Maria? Well, maybe Maria wasn’t the problem. 
      • Irwin Kostal was the composer and arranger for the film, and weaved the themes of its songs seamlessly throughout. In scenes where there isn’t a reprise, the music is still there reminding the audience of how the characters feel. 
    • When the camera pans upward out of the church, we hear the notes of the processional fade away, and into the foreboding ring of church bells. The bells work as an audio and visual metaphor for the end of happier times. As the camera pans down, we see the nazi flag. 
  • 16 Going on 17 Reprise
    • After Maria and The Captain return from their honeymoon, Maria is purposely dressed in more mature clothing than what she wore before the wedding. In this scene, she’s finally in a motherly role. 
    • This reprise represents Leisl’s maturity as well, and the progression of her and Maria’s relationship. Remember, the first time Leisl sang this song, Maria was brand new in the house, and didn’t have her trust. 
    • This song also leads into the scene where The Captain alerts Maria that he has been drafted to be in the Third Reich Navy. From this point on, the film takes a much more serious tone as the family narrowly escapes the country.
  • Edelweiss Reprise
    • For the second and final time, Captain Von Trapp performs Edelweiss at the Salzburg festival. This time the song takes on an entirely different meaning. The first time he sang the song, he sang because he wanted to. Now, he’s singing for his life. The song has such a strong tie to the country that he loves, a country that he has watched disappear under the Nazi regime. It’s his way of saying goodbye, and moves him to tears, as the audience sings with him. 
    • Christopher Plummer said that he wasn’t “entirely sober” for this scene, as the cast had been drinking to keep warm on the cold set. 
    • Because The Sound of Music was the last musical that Oscar Hammerstein worked on before his death, Edelweiss was the last song he had ever written. It was a farewell in many ways. 
  • So Long, Farewell Reprise
    • The last song sung by the Von Trapps at the festival is, “So Long, Farewell.” Not only does this mirror the final moments of the first half of the film, it’s also a harsh comparison between the setting when the song was first performed, and the cold, dark Rocky Riding School where the festival takes place
    • The Riding Hall setting was very cold and damp, and the actors spent a lot of time on the set. The entire location had been carved from stone. 
    • The film’s assistant director recruited hundreds of extras that wore their own traditional Austrian clothing, and sat in as the audience. 
    • Just after this scene, the family hides in the graveyard, trying to escape the nazis. This scene was filmed on a soundstage, and Robert Wise did his best to build as much suspense as possible. Ernest Lehman added the confrontation between Rolfe and The Captain here to add dramatic tension.
    • We learn here that the borders have been closed, and they decide to escape through the Alps. In real life, the Von Trapps actually escaped one day before the borders were closed.  

After the Von Trapps escaped, their villa became the headquarters for Heinrich Himmler, a notorious Nazi leader. His headquarters was on the second floor of the villa, and Hitler himself visited him there. After the war, the villa was returned to the Von Trapps, and they donated it to the church. In the commentary, Maria’s youngest son revealed that Himmler’s headquarters were turned into a chapel. 

CAST

  • Dame Julie Andrews as Maria
    • When Julie Andrews was cast in The Sound of Music, she was fairly unknown as a film actress. The two films that she had acted in (one of them being Mary Poppins) had not been released. Of course she had made her mark on the stage, playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. But, was famously passed up for Audrey Hepburn when the play was optioned for film. 
    • Julie had a strong connection to Maria. Both of their lives had been changed by music, and they were born exactly 30 years apart. 
      • Maria Von Trapp thanked Julie for playing her as a “tomboy” because it was true to how she really was. 
      • Christopher Plummer made the comment that this was the most natural role he ever saw Julie play, that this character was the most like her actual self. Robert Wise also shared that Julie is as warm as her character in real life, and they remained friends after the film. 
    • Andrews was jealous that other actors were able to tour the area while they were filming. Her schedule didn’t allow her to do that, even though she was very fond of her costars and wanted to spend time with them. 
      • She actually formed a singing group with some of her costars, to keep their spirits up on long days. They called themselves “The Vocalzones,” which are lozenges that help relieve strained vocal chords. 
    • She was 28 when she played the role, meaning that in real life, she was only 7 years older than the oldest Von Trapp child, Liesl. 
      • She also at this time had a daughter that was only one at the time. She would often sit on Robert Wise’s knee and watch her mother during shooting.
    • Dame Julie is most well known for not only this movie but Mary Poppins, and The Princess Diaries.
  • Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp
    • He was a stage actor before becoming an actor in films and television. He has been in many including National Treasure, All the Money in the World, The Thorn Birds, and Knives Out.
      • While filming the movie, Julie Andrews was a little struck by him. She had seen his stage performances and thought he was a brilliant actor. 
    • After seeing Christopher on stage multiple times, Robert Wise specifically wanted him as the Captain. Wise saw the character of the captain as boring and he thought Christopher would make him more interesting and add a certain darkness to the character.
      • At one point, Wise flew to London to convince Christopher Plummer to take the part. He was concerned that he wasn’t old enough to play the captain, so Wise had a make-up artist show him how he would look in age make-up. Finally, Wise convinced Plummer to take the part.
    • He famously admitted that he did not like children. He called them little monsters and saw them as inconvenient to film production due to labor laws and how long filming could be. He did end up coming to adore the children in this movie.
    • He also famously did not like the movie, often referring to it as “The Sounds of Mucus” or “SNM.” He was also known to have said that, “The damn movie follows me around like an albatross.” 
  • Eleanor Parker as The Baroness
    • An Ohio born Actress she was in many movies and tv series including Caged, The Naked Jungle, and Escape from Fort Bravo. 
  • Richard Hadyn as Max Detweiler
    • He has been in Young Frankenstein, Alice in Wonderland (1951), and And Then There Were None.
    • After filming had wrapped Robert Wise had enjoyed Richards company so much that they often would meet up to chat.
  • Peggy Wood as Mother Abbess
    • She has been in A Star is Born (1937), Mama, and The Story of Ruth.
  • Charmian Carr as Liesl
    • The Sound of Music was her biggest role. 
    • At the time when she was playing the oldest child, a 16 year old, she was about 21. It was her first time away from home. In her book, “Forever Liesl,” she detailed her experience on the set, including interactions with Christopher Plummer that many have raised their eyebrows at. On the audio commentary, she said that he was her favorite thing about making the film. 
  • Heather Menzies-Urich as 13 year old Louisa
    • She appeared in tv movies and shows and the movie Piranha.
  • Nicholas Hammond as 14 year old Friedrich
    • He has appeared in things like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, and Stealth.
  • Duane Chase as 11 year old Kurt
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Angela Cartwright as 10 year old Brigitta
    • She appeared in the television series Lost in Space and the movie Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.  
  • Debbie Turner as 7 year old Marta
    • This was her biggest role.
  • Kym Karath as 5 year old Gretl
    • She briefly appeared on several television series such as The Brady Bunch, The Waltons, and All My Children.
  • Anna Lee as Sister Margaretta
    • She has been in several things such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, General Hospital, and Fort Apache.
  • Ben Wright as Herr Zeller
    • He has done voice work in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, and The Jungle Book.
  • Daniel Truhitte as Rolfe, Liesl’s love interest
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Norma Varden as Frau Schmidt
    • She has been in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Strangers on a Train, and Witness for the Prosecution.
  • Gilchrist Stuart as Franz
    • He has been in The Wild Wild West, A Yank in the R.A.F., and Assault on a Queen.
  • Portia Nelson as Sister Berthe
    • She has been in Doctor Dolittle (1967), The Other, and The Trouble with Angels.
    • She was known as a comedic actress, and Julie Andrews loved the character she brought to Sister Berthe, especially at the end when the sister sabotage the Nazi’s cars
  • Marni Nixon as Sister Sophia
    • She was a well known ghost singer for the leading ladies in movies like The King and I, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story. Wise wanted her to be able to step out  of the shadows for this movie and be a face that we all see!
  • Evadne Baker as Sister Bernice
    • She was also known for the movies Shock Treatment and 7 Women from Hell.
  • Doris Lloyd as Baroness Ebberfeld
    • We can’t name all the movies that Doris was in because she had been in 150 movies between 1920 and 1960!

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • When test audiences viewed the film, it was clear that it would be successful. But, no one could have foreseen the level of success that this film would achieve.
  • When the film opened in 1965, audiences flocked to it. For the next four years, the soundtrack sat near the top of the Billboard charts, and was number 1 for 70 weeks in the UK. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, and would win 5. The Sound of Music was more than a success, it was a cultural phenomenon. But, critics didn’t like it. For example, in an original review for the New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther said, “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.” 
    • One critic was reportedly fired for writing an incredibly harsh review of the film! But, it didn’t have any effect on its commercial success. 
  • There were other critics of the film as well. For example, the real Maria Von Trapp was unhappy with the film’s ending, as the family escapes through the Alps. As we said last week, the family would have had to travel 200 miles on foot over the alps to arrive in Switzerland. In response to this criticism, Robert Wise simply said that Hollywood has a way of making its own geography. 
  • Since the premiere of the Sound of Music, it has been translated into at least 30 languages. It was the top grossing film of all time between 1965 and 1972!
  • The film brought thousands of tourists to Salzburg, so they could visit where it was filmed.
  • One wonderful result of the film was an interest in the Nonnberg Abbey. Many young girls all over the world saw this movie and there were several that felt called to become Nuns. The Abbey accepted several new postulants after the film’s release. The Mother Abbess at the time of the 50th anniversary even said that they all love to sing!
  • Another wonderful result is that Julie Andrews was told many times by people that it is the reason they went into theater, became singers, and more!

When the Sound of Music premiered, it looked like nothing more than a blockbuster film. Critics didn’t like it, it was too hopeful, too unrealistic. It was a sugar-coated view of a turbulent time, and audiences ate it up. But as time went on, it became clear that The Sound of Music was much more than that. It is a film that has inspired millions of people, and continues to do so. Its intricate sets, sweeping cinematography, and charming songs, told a story that the world longed to hear. 

The Sound of Music is about so many things: family, romance, war, and the healing power of music. The first act shows us a romance and a family reconnecting through music. The second half shows the family relying on music and each other to help them through incredible challenges. In the 1960’s, Hitler and the second world war was still fresh on the minds of many moviegoers. Some would criticize the sound of music for being optimistic, but audiences yearned for a happy ending. 

And beyond that, this is a film that undoubtedly changed lives. It influenced some to join the theater, and its songs have lifted the spirits of countless people. This film has brought families together, and many of us can’t separate it from some of our happiest movie memories. Even though The Sound of Music was released over 50 years ago, it is still very much alive, and is still one of our favorite things. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

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