At 50, The Sound of Music still rings as sweet as ever

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times, Chennai
  • Updated: Jan 23, 2015 17:22 IST

The 1960s were an era of haunting Bollywood musicals with Dev Anand-Shammi Kapoor-Dilip Kumar-starrers giving us some unforgettable songs. Their melody set to extraordinary lines were on just about every pair of lips.

It was in such a scenario that The Sound of Music opened in Calcutta's famed Globe theatre, and its gripping story and innumerable songs caught on - giving a run for their money to the likes of Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, Anands and Kapoors. Incredible as it may sound, the man on street - bhadrolok or otherwise - was heard singing Edelweiss and Do Re Mi.

Fifty years later, The Sound of Music - helmed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer - is all set for a huge celebration. This will begin on March 2 in Britain and March 10 in the US with the release of a five-disc blu-ray DVD digital HD collector's treasure.

The blu-ray disc will include 13 hours of additional content with a brand new documentary -- The Sound of a City: Julie Andrews Returns to Salzburg - telling us all about her recent visit to that city of magic and music where she was once Maria, a young woman in a secluded abbey training to be a nun.

As the film opens with a zoom shot of Maria -she grows from a tiny speck on a marvelously undulating patch of greenery with the Alps behind her - singing 'The Hills are alive with the sound of music', the movie pans across to the abbey. The sisters there are wondering what to do with Maria as she rushes in - late as ever for the prayer. "How do you solve a problem like Maria", they burst into a song - smiling and good natured though, a reflection of times perhaps when kindness and compassion ruled our lives.

The golden jubilee commemoration will continue on March 26, when Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will pay a tribute to Andrews and Plummer with an opening night screening of The Sound of Music at the sixth TCM Classic Film Festival, running from March 26 to 29. Movie historian Robert Osborne will introduce the brilliantly restored film, and moderate a Q&A with Andrews and Plummer (who played Captain Von Trapp).

This meeting of Maria and Von Trapp will be sheer nostalgia for two of the greatest actors we have known. In fact, no scene in the history of cinema has had such intense sexual tension as the dance number in the movie where the two are doing the Landler, an Austrian-German folk form, which was forbidden in parts of Europe for about 50 years in the 18th century.

The Sound of Music, which won five Academy Awards - displaced Gone With The Wind (which was already 26 years old in 1965) as the highest box office grosser of all time.

And why was it such a big hit? The answer is simple. It had a fascinating story that moved seamlessly through some of the sweetest songs one has heard. Top this with Andrews' excellent performance against the superbly scenic Salzburg.

In fact, Andrews was the first choice of Wise, although his list included Grace Kelly and Shirley Jones. Kelly and Jones might not have been quite suitable for the Maria we saw on the screen -- bubbly, mischievous, innocent, sincere and utterly lovable. Otherwise, how could a widower like Von Trapp - so strict that he used the whistle to call each of his seven children - fall so deeply in love with this simple girl who is not chic or polished. Remember that scene when she rings the bell at the Captain's villa. When a man opens the door, she announces: "Captain, I am your new governess". To which he answers: "I am your butler".

Wise had seen Andrews in Mary Poppins, which was yet to be released then. A few minutes into a special show of the film, Wise told the producer, "Let's go sign this girl before somebody else sees this movie and grabs her!"

The Sound of Music was inspired by the Von Trapp family singers. Many things were changed in the film. The Von Trapp family had ten children; seven were from the Captain's first marriage, and three more children came after Maria and Georg Von Trapp were married. In the movie, the children's names, ages and genders were also changed.

The real Captain Von Trapp was a warm and good-humoured man, not the hard and cynical character seen in the film. This inaccurate portrayal distressed the Von Trapp family greatly.

Another major deviation in the movie was that the real Maria did not fall in love with the Captain at first sight - as the move shows us. Maria once said: "I fell in love with the children and married their father; I got used to the father, and we were very happy."

Even the climax has been tweaked. The Von Trapps did not flee to Switzerland walking over the Alps, an escape made possible by the nuns at the abbey who pull out a wire in the car used by the Nazis to chase the family. The Von Trapps left by train to Italy in clear daylight. Eventually, they made their way to the US mostly with the money they made singing. Once in America, they settled in Stowe, Vermont.

Despite these so-called inaccuracies, The Sound of Music was adored by generations of cinema buffs. And when it opens again, it will probably be a grand hit.

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