Study Guide

The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music Introduction


Release Year: 1965

Genre: Biography, Family, Musical

Director: Robert Wise

Writer: Ernest Lehman, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (stage musical book)

Stars: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer


Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
Brown paper pack—

Stop. Just stop.

You had us at "raindrops on roses."

Before binge-watching was even a thing, before we were old enough to know much about nuns or nannies or Nazis, we couldn't stop watching The Sound of Music. We learned do-re-mi forward and backward. We climbed ev'ry mountain. We couldn't wait to be sixteen going on seventeen. We even learned to yodel.

For generations of American children, The Sound of Music was one of our favorite things.

  

Let's Start at the Very Beginning

Based on a true story and adapted from the long-running Broadway musical of the same name, The Sound of Music jumped off the screen and into America's hearts in 1965. A young girl named Maria (Julie Andrews, fresh off her Oscar-winning performance as Mary Poppins) is studying to be a nun at an abbey in Salzburg on the eve of the Nazi takeover of Austria. Maria's a little too exuberant for the lifestyle; she'd rather be frolicking in the hills, singing and blissing out.

The understanding and compassionate head of the abbey sees that Maria's about to make a seriously bad career choice and decides to send her out into the world to become the governess for the seven children of a widowed sea captain, Georg Von Trapp. Despite some initial hiccups in getting settled within the family, the kids—and their father—end up falling in love with her. We don't want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say… Maria never becomes a nun.

Haters Gonna Hate

For a movie that made its way into the hearts, souls, and ears of every American, it wasn't so beloved by critics. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote that the film was "in peril of collapsing under its weight of romantic nonsense and sentiment," with terrible performances from everyone except Julie Andrews (source). He predicted that the film would totally ruin the musical movie genre.

We're gonna go ahead and say most people would disagree.

Next up? Iconic film critic Pauline Kael. Writing in McCall's magazine, she described the film as "the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat. […] We have been turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs" (source). She predicted the film would be the "single most repressive influence on artistic freedom in movies" for years to come (source).

It continued, with other critics called the film something for the "five-to-seven set and all their mommies" and "Not only too sweet for words but almost too sweet for music" (source).

You get the picture.

Not all critics were haters, though, and anyway, the public and the Academy didn't seem to mind. The film was a box-office smash. In five weeks, it pulled in enough dough-re-mi to knock Gone with the Wind out of its long-held position of highest-grossing film of all time. It was in theaters for four-and-a-half years. It's still one of the highest earning films ever, more than blockbusters like Titanic or Avatar. The film scooped up five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as a Best Actress nom for Julie Andrews. (She won a Golden Globe for her performance as Maria.)

Its biggest success? Over half a century later, The Sound of Music—despite its unlikely story line and sticky-sweet sentiments—still has a powerful hold on our imagination and affections.

Like edelweiss, this film will bloom and grow forever. How corny is that?

P.S. Pauline Kael? She got fired.

What is The Sound of Music About and Why Should I Care?

Musical movies can seem a bit, well… weird. People bursting into song and dance in the middle of the action. And where's that music coming from, anyway?

Here's what's even more unlikely: Would people really be dancing through the streets of Salzburg or bursting into song if the Nazis were about to take over their country?

Probably not.

But strangely, the whole juxtaposition of Nazism with uber-cheerful, lovey-dovey songs… it works. The Sound of Music's ability to balance a sense of unbridled joy with its serious backdrop of war and fear is a pretty impressive feat. The film doesn't only work—it endures. For its 50th anniversary, 20th Century Fox announced a theatrical release of a restored version in 500 theaters, a 5-disc collector's set, four books, and a national tours of the stage production in the U.S and U.K. There was even a SOM-themed cruise and a huge celebration in Salzburg (source).

That's right: Decades and decades later, it's still the best-loved movie musical around.

But… why?

For starters, The Sound of Music is about a real musical family's real story, based on the memoirs of Maria von Trapp. And what a story it is—romance, gorgeous scenery, cute kids, Nazis, good guys vs. bad guys, and a thrilling escape. Not that the actual history wasn't amped up for dramatic effect, but knowing it's based in fact lets us suspend disbelief during the less-believable scenes (like, uh, prancing around Salzburg singing "Do-Re-Mi").

Director Robert Wise also thought that the the timing of the movie, and its traditional values of family, hope, and courage, helped drive its success.

Newspapers carried headlines of the war in Vietnam, a cultural revolution was beginning to spread throughout the country, and people needed old-fashioned ideals to hold on to. The public was ready, possibly even eager, for a film like this. […] Besides an outstanding score and an excellent cast, it had a heartwarming story, good humor, someone to love and someone to hate, and seven adorable children. (Source)

And, oh yeah, there's the music.

That was totally not a fair fight. The film had the advantage of being adapted from a Tony Award-winning Best Musical by the most famous composing duo of all time. There are melodies you just can't get out of your head and lyrics that get to you in spite of yourself:

  • "the hills are alive with the sound of music / with songs they have sung for a thousand years"
  • "a dream that will need all the love you can give / every day of your life for as long as you live"
  • "tea, a drink with jam and bread"

Okay, maybe not that last one.

But why trust us? Let's just go straight to the source and let Julie Andrews sum up why this film works so well:

I guess when you put all those ingredients—beautiful scenery and beautiful music and children and nuns and all of that—together, the only thing that was missing was Lassie, I guess. (Source)

The leading lady knew movie magic when she saw it.

Trivia

Prior to filming, some city officials in Salzburg didn't want to have their city decorated with Nazi flags, or have actors dressed like Nazis marching through the town square. But when the alternative suggested by the filmmakers was to use actual newsreel footage, officials changed their tune, because Austrians in the newsreels were seen enthusiastically welcoming the Nazis. (Source)

The Sound of Music was never very popular in Austria. Here's one Austrian giving us 15 reasons to hate the film.

Working with child actors can be a real problem; they have an unfortunate tendency to grow. The actor playing Friedrich grew 6 inches during the course of the filming, which caused a lot of continuity problems. Since he was supposed to be shorter than Liesl, Charmaine Carr ended up filming some scenes standing on a box. (Source)

The real Maria von Trapp was an extra in the movie. She's in the "I Have Confidence" scene. (Source)

Kym Karath, who played Gretl, swallowed so much water during the scene where everyone fell off the boat that she promptly threw up all over "Louisa." Julie Andrews was supposed to have fallen off the boat forward so she could grab Karath, who couldn't swim, but she accidentally fell backward. By the time they got to her, the poor kid was terrified. (Source)

The Sound of Music Resources

Websites

AMC Filmsite
Remember when AMC used to show movies? Neither do we, but they have a great website for all the 411 about important films. Here's their detailed summary of The Sound of Music.

Reel Classics
Everything—and we mean everything—you could ever want to know about The Sound of Music.

Von Trapp Reality Tour
If you ever wished you could experience the Salzburg of the von Trapps—well, now you can, by taking a The Sound of Music tour.

50 Facts for 50 Years
Broadway.com celebrates the immortal film.

Book or TV Adaptations

Carrie Underwhelming
You may be aware that Carrie Underwood starred as Maria in a TV version. Not everyone was a fan.

The Simpsons Does SOM
The Simpsons spoofs everything.

Von Trapp Family Guy
A guide to all the Sound of Music references in The Family Guy.

Articles and Interviews

So is a Thing You Do with Grain, Oat Wheat
Seriously, that was the lyric before Oscar Hammerstein changed it to "So, a needle pulling thread." There were lots of changes to the music and lyrics prior to the film's release. Scenes were cut, titles were changed. For example, the original title of "My Favorite Things" was "Good Things." Good thing they changed it.

More Fun Facts and Trivia
If the brain snacks weren't enough for you, check out Mental Floss's run down of cool and little known facts about the movie.

You Know You're Big When You're on Oprah
Oprah had a little celebration in honor of The Sound of Music's 40th anniversary.

Reflections at 50
Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer talk about what it was like to have been in this historic film.

What the Von Trapps Really Think
The real family reflects on the film on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

Tourist Trapp
One guy's description of his tour of Salzburg.

Not a Fan
Kym Karath, the actress who played Gretl, gave the Carrie Underwood remake a thumbs-down. She was nice about it, though.

Coming to America
Interesting article about the Von Trapps' emigration to the U.S., complete with photos and immigration papers. They settled near Stowe, Vermont, because it reminded them of the Alps. The family opened a lodge there.

Video

Maria and Maria
Here's Julie Andrews interviewing (and yodeling with) the real Maria von Trapp on her TV show, "The Julie Andrews Hour." You can see that Maria's full of energy and has a great sense of humor. She talks about what happened to the family after the events in the movie's last scene—how they were forced into poverty and how she had to learn English.

Do-Re-Mi on ABC
Julie Andrews and Diane Sawyer go back to Salzburg on the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music. Watch tourists re-enact their favorite scenes and get the inside scoop about the production from the leading lady and her captain.

The Sound of Advertising
Check out one of these ads for the film.

High on a Hill Was a Lonely . . . Muppet?
Yes, you can watch Julie Andrews re-create the magic with a different set of puppets.

More Muppets
Grover listens for the sound of music on this episode of "Monsterpiece Theater."

Mistakes Were Made
Here are some continuity errors and goofs in the film. Some people have the time to do this.

Rosemary's Baby Liesl
Here's an interesting artifact: Mia Farrow's audition tape for the role of Liesl.

Revival
In 1998, the stage version was revived on Broadway and got a Tony nomination. Here's a medley of songs from the live Broadway production.

Gaga for The Sound of Music
Check out Lady Gaga singing a medley from The Sound of Music at the 2015 Oscars. Julie Andrews thought she was awesome.

Audio

Mary Martin singing "Do-Re-Mi"
Here's a clip of Mary Martin, the original Broadway Maria, singing "Do-Re-Mi." It's a different feel from the film version—no British accent.

Images

Behind-the-Scenes
An awesome website with tons of photos from the shoot.

I Just Met a Baroness Named Maria
Funny, she doesn't look like Julie Andrews.

Maria and Maria
The real Maria with Julie Andrews in Salzburg.

Real Von Trapps of Austria and Vermont
Here's the actual Von Trapp family enjoying the sound of music.

The Captain and Maria
Hard at work with director Robert Wise.

Aging Very Gracefully
Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, still stunning after 50 years.

The Hills Are Alive
Probably the most iconic image from the movie, in which Julie Andrews was apparently trying not to get knocked over by a helicopter.

The Gang's All Here
Here's the original movie poster.

50 Years and Counting
Some of the cast get together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film's release.

Next Best Thing to Being There
Playbill.com put together a photographic tour of the sets and behind the scenes shots of the making of the film.