by: David Horiuchi
Shot in Salzburg against the majestic Bavarian Alps, THE SOUND OF MUSIC is considered one of the greatest screen musicals ever made. Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Wise), the film, based on a real family and their true events, tells the story of a young postulate, Maria (Julie Andrews), who, after proving too high-spirited for the Mother Abess and other nuns, is sent off to work as a governess to seven unruly children. The Von Trapp family is run, in military style, by the seemingly cold-hearted Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), a lonely widowed naval officer. Seeing how badly he and his children need companionship, he proposes to the Baroness Schraeder (Eleanor Parker), a calculating, mutual friend of beloved family friend Max Detweiler (Richard Haydn). It is the baroness who soon realizes that it’s Maria–with her warmth and love for the children–the captain really loves. It is nearly bliss for the newly formed family who loves to sing together–except for the cloud looming over their beloved Austrian horizon: Hitler is ascending to power, forcing Von Trapp to decide whether to join the Nazi party–which he loathes–or force his family to leave their home forever. One of the most memorable scores ever written (by Rodgers and Hammerstein) and breathtaking performances by Andrews, Plummer, and the seven children mark this classic as one of the world’s most favorite films.
When Julie Andrews sang “The hills are alive with the sound of music” from an Austrian mountaintop in 1965, the most beloved movie musical was born. To be sure, the adaptation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway hit has never been as universally acclaimed as, say, Singin’ in the Rain. Critics argue that the songs are saccharine (even the songwriters regretted the line “To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray”) and that the characters and plot lack the complexity that could make them more interesting. It’s not hard to know whom to root for when your choice is between cute kids and Nazis.
It doesn’t matter. Audiences fell in love with the struggling novice Maria (Andrews), the dashing Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), and, yes, the cute kids, all based on a real-life World War II Austrian family. Such songs as “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi,” “Climb Every Mountain,” and the title tune became part of the 20th century Zeitgeist. In addition, The Sound of Music officially became a cult hit when audiences in London began giving it the Rocky Horror Picture Show treatment, attending showings dressed as their favorite characters and delivering choreographed comments and gestures along with the movie. So why resist, especially when the 40th Anniversary Edition is the best DVD yet.
As if the direct involvement of Julie Andrews weren’t enough, the 40th Anniversary Edition of The Sound of Music is a must-have for fans because of the fond sense of nostalgia that will touch all but the worst cynic’s heart. Andrews introduces both discs and contributes a commentary track on the film. It’s a joy to hear her speak about the film (for example, she explains how she solved her dislike for the lyrics of “I Have Confidence”), and also heard are remarks by Christopher Plummer (who at one point refers to his being 48, which if true would mean his comments were made in about 1975), Charmian Carr (Liesl), choreographer Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes Von Trapp (the real-life Maria Von Trapp’s youngest son, who admits that his father did have a whistle but claims that he was not as stern as portrayed in the film). Even with all those people involved, there are still significant gaps of silence, however. Retained from the previous two-disc editions is the commentary track by director Robert Wise, which during the musical numbers becomes an isolated score with no vocals. Also new are sing-along subtitles in English, Spanish, and French, which allow you to have your own sing-along at home. In addition, the film’s remastering shows off a truer and much warmer sense of color.
On the second disc, Andrews participates in a new 63-minute documentary “My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers.” But it’s really a general making-of documentary with contributions from a number of principals, including director Robert Wise, who died in mid-2005 (not surprisingly, some stories are repeated from the commentary track and from the 87-minute documentary on the previous DVD). Andrews also shares a warm 19-minute sit-down with Christopher Plummer. Carr, who over the years has become the film’s biggest advocate, narrates a new 22-minute documentary, “On Location with The Sound of Music,” in which she revisits the places in Salzburg where the movie was filmed, and even joins one of the “Sound of Music tours” that have become a booming industry. And acknowledging another big industry, there’s a 12-minute featurette on the sing-along phenomenon, focusing specifically on the audience, costumed and otherwise, that attended a sold-out Hollywood Bowl sing-along in 2005. Making special appearances at the event are four von Trapp great-grandchildren and all seven of the actors who played the children. Thankfully, those actors also appear in a 33-minute documentary “From Liesl to Gretl: A 40th Anniversary Reunion,” in which they explain what they do now (many are still in show business) and share stories about the film, who was afraid of Christopher Plummer, and what they feel is their responsibility to the film’s passionate fans. What’s touching is how the group still considers themselves a family so many years later. Other material includes an A&E documentary on the von Trapps, Mia Farrow’s screen test for the Liesl role, and a restoration comparison.
If you already own the previous two-disc editions, you’ll want this 40th Anniversary Edition as well, but you might not want to toss those versions. Probably the most significant omission from this edition is the original 14-minute documentary Charmian Carr made in 1967, “Salzburg Sight and Sound.” Carr’s new documentary includes only a couple clips from the vintage piece. It’s not a great work of art, but it’s a notable loss and would have made a good contrast with the new documentary. In addition, the new making-of documentary is about 24 minutes shorter than the old one. Also missing are the audio-only features–the interviews, the radio programs, the Ernest Lehman spotlight–and the historical still gallery examining the history of Salzburg and the film. Granted, this material probably got the least play of any of the old features, but completists might want to hold onto their old discs for it. It would have also been nice to have screen tests other than Farrow’s. Tests for all the children and for Christopher Plummer (including singing in his own voice before he was dubbed for the film) were included on Hollywood something and Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of the Movies. Again, they’re not critical but it would have been nice to have them all in one place. So maybe the 40th Anniversary Edition isn’t the complete package on The Sound of Music, but it’s the most satisfying edition yet, with enough new material to please even the veteran SoM DVD watcher.