WHY ITS LONGEVITY?
Still reeling from Cleopatra, 20th Century Fox discovered somewhat accidentally that it held the rights to The Sound of Music and desperate for cash ordered up filming. Its overwhelming success is decried as an example of how indiscriminate movie tastes often are. There’s something a little deeper about how American adults initially responded: our involvement in Vietnam was heating up and, speaking from personal experience of entering the Army at the time, many inductees were in fear that, shipped to the conflict, we might be brought back in a box. The Sound of Music was a mass comfort session; among the thousands of letters director Robert Wise would receive, one of them came from a California psychiatrist: “I’m worried—it’s cheaper than therapy.” Except for blockheads, most of us, including the cast and Wise, knew the rot of its supercalifragilistic family values. But the lovely imagery of goodness got to us; in spite of everything that shouted otherwise, we held onto what we knew wasn’t. (Even when, in repeated viewings, we mocked it by singing along with Maria and the brats long before the sing-a-long version.) Probably key to its lasting success is that audiences believe the musical’s fun is in its obvious manipulation. Discounting the Jesus epics and agendized documentaries, it’s been called the most engineered entertainment ever made. That would, however, grant Wise a vision he disavowed: the movie had numerous production problems and Christopher Plummer exhibited his contempt by overeating and drinking during filming. Back at Fox some executives reportedly gagged when seeing the rushes: the anti-sweetner compromises having failed, every i of inanity, every t in trite and every exclamation of cute and heart-tugging were emphasized. Initial worries, too, over Plummer’s delicious mock. What’s clear is the cavity inducer would never have worked quite the way it did back in ’65, or work now or in the future, without his effete camp: when Captain von Georg, standing prissily, looking foppishly sinister, pushes open his mansion’s ballroom doors to get his first view of Maria Andrews, and then proceeds to use a whistle to summon his devilish angels, a depraved movie soul is given birth, having been conceived the year before as Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire. (He syllabicates words like “governess,” “today” and “abbey” to the max.) A typical Hollywood injustice: Mother Superior Peggy Wood, a ringer for Barbara Bush, got an Oscar nom over Eleanor Parker’s bull’s eye conniver: no one will ever put more intent into the line, “Darling, haven’t you ever heard of a delightful little thing called boarding school?” Pancaked as an Austrian kabuki, Parker’s use of every tired trick that we’ve always hated watching in her other movies is what we end up loving about her here. (A career high, but such are the perils of role choices that a year later, in a doubleheader, she’d get trashed in The Oscar and in a mere thirty minutes slide to an all-time low in An American Dream, aka See You in Hell, Darling.) The kids strain patience and even the unrepentant sapsuckers have been known to be amenable to booking that tear-gushing Angela Cartwright on the next express to Auschwitz. If you’ve been to Salzburg you’ve found yourself startled by how the movie just about equals Mozart as tourist money trap. There are SoM bus trips, dolls, candies, on and on. After absorbing the city’s history, you see the combination as a happy marriage: Amadeus was addicted to sweets. Academy Awards: best film, director, sound, musical score adapted, film editing. Oscars noms: best actress (Andrews), supporting actress (Wood), color cinematography, color costumes, color art direction/set decoration. Filmed in TODD AO. (96 weeks at the Michael Todd, starting 3/17/1965.)
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2000 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.