Friday, December 14, 2012


Film: The Sound of Music
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

You should know off the bat that I really hate The Sound of Music. I hate every glurge-soaked moment of this film, every over-eager, exaggerated expression of joy and forced laugh, every sugary, syrupy song, every gloppy, saccharine frame of this celluloid diabetic coma. I reserve the right to root for the Germans in two films: Das Boot and this one. I’m saying this at the top because obviously these opinions are going to dramatically influence what I have to say in the paragraphs to come.

Maria (Julie Andrews) is attempting to become a nun in an Austrian convent, but she’s far too much of a free spirit. Instead of staying at home and being penitent, she’s compelled to run off to the mountains and traipse around singing about how those mountains are filled with music. Of course they’re filled with music; she’s running around singing. When she comes back, she finds the nuns singing about how they should solve a problem like her. I have a suggestion. It involves a garrote made of piano wire.

Anyway, Maria is sent off to become the governess of the Von Trapp children in Salzburg. The father, Captain Georg Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) runs the house with military precision. The seven children, from oldest to youngest are Liesl (Charmain Carr), Friedrich (Nicholas Hammond), Louisa (Heather Menzies-Urich), Kurt (Duane Chase), Brigitta (Angela Cartwright), Marta (Debbie Turner) and Gretl (Kym Karath). The kids play a couple of pranks on Maria who responds with 1960s musical-level pluck and verve. Eventually, she wins the kids over by covering for Liesl’s romp with telegraph boy and wannabee Nazi Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte) and by singing about kittens and snowflakes when all of the other children are unaccountably terrified by a thunderstorm. Captain Von Trapp goes off to Vienna to visit his current flame, and Maria takes advantage of this sudden freedom by making them froofy clothing out of her old drapes and teaching them to sing.

I want to mention the clothing specifically. Five of the children are girls, and the clothing that rather magically fits them perfectly looks fine on them. Kurt gets a shirt made of the material, and it’s…a little fancy, but not terrible. Poor Friedrich, though, gets stuck with something that looks like pastel fleur-de-lis lederhosen that are embarrassing.

Anyway, Von Trapp brings back his baroness/wife-to-be (Eleanor Parker) and friend Max (Richard Haydn) and comes to the point of booting Maria when he discovers his children’s new clothing (I like to imagine it’s because of Friedrich’s clothes), but relents when he hears the children singing. The kids then perform an expert puppet show with about sixteen thousand puppets. Max wants them to sing professionally for him, and the Captain refuses. Eventually, jealous of Maria, the Baroness gets her punked back to the abbey and sinks her Austrian claws into the Captain.

Ah, but Maria is full of pluck and verve and exists in a musical, so she decides to fight for her man. She leaves the convent and we get the happy bits that we want. And then there are Nazis and the return of the now-fully Nazi-ified Rolfe, and the singing Von Trapps running across mountains to make it to safety and out of Third Reich-ville.

Seriously, I hate this film. Everyone is so damn perky. So damn perky. Everything comes with the most extreme emotional reactions possible. The children, once Maria manages to calm them all down during the thunderstorm, are constantly in a whirlwind of nanny-induced ecstasy in which every moment is filled with sunshine and whiskery kittens and Skittles for everybody. Captain Von Trapp is a blowhard douchenozzle until he suddenly becomes SuperDad.

Honestly, it’s not even the fact that this is a musical that drives me batty—it’s the attitude of pretty much everyone in the film. Of course, that attitude comes from the fact that this is a musical, so I guess if I try to find the source of my loathing, I’ll end up chasing my tail. I’ll admit that some of the songs are pretty good. But really, does anyone care about “The Lonely Goatherd”?

It’s not hyperbole to suggest that this is one of the films that I’ve been dreading revisiting since I started this project, because I know precisely how much I dislike it. In fact, I think a good deal of my dislike of musicals stems from being forced to watch this at a relatively early age. It’s so overly emotional, so forced, that I have real issues with taking it seriously. The children are too damn happy. I was never this constantly happy as a kid. No one I know was ever this constantly overjoyed with everything. It’s so extreme in this way that I have trouble remembering that it was based at least in part on a real story.

But hey, at least it’s done.

Musical lovers will find everything here to love, and people who don’t like musicals will hate virtually every frame. In many ways, The Sound of Music is the purest musical ever made, either the pinnacle of the (climb ev’ry) mountain or the deepest pit. I understand why people who love musicals love it, and I really despair of making them understand why I really hate it. I get it, but I just don’t get it. I promise to lay off if you Von Trapp fans will promise not to make me live through it again. Deal?

Why to watch The Sound of Music: It’s a bona fide classic of the musical genre.
Why not to watch: You’re at risk for contracting diabetes.


  1. "...either the pinnacle of the (climb ev’ry) mountain or the deepest pit."

    Clever Bane reference. Sometimes the pit sends something back.

    Koreans love "The Sound of Music" because they adore the overdramatic. My mom was no exception. Like you, I used to cringe through our yearly "Sound" sittings, but this was one of those unavoidable TV rituals from the 70s and 80s, like watching "The Ten Commandments" or "The Wizard of Oz" or "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer."

    These days, with Mom gone, I associate those silly alpine songs with her, so I suppose I've gone soft and have become a bit more forgiving of the production. But I do have random moments where I remember that Robert Wise, who directed this musical, went on to helm "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." That weirds me out.

  2. I haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises, so any Bane reference is purely by chance.

    Wise also directed The Haunting and The Day the Earth Stood Still and he edited Citizen Kane, for which I give him credit. However, most of the acclaim he got came from this one and from West Side Story, and I find that really sad.

    I admit that some of the songs are really good. It's hard not to like "Edelweiss." But the "Do-Re-Mi" song is friggin' eternal. That scene feels like half an hour.

  3. Great review and I couldn't agree more with your loathing of this film - probably for the same reasons of being forced to watch it while young. Yeah, the songs are good but the story is just... bad.

  4. Whilst I certainly don't have the deep-rotted childhood hatred of this film (I saw it for the first time last year, aged 24, without knowing anything about it other than it involved a singing nun), I have to agree that its just detestable, but i gave me possibly the greatest nap I've ever had due to just how dull the film is. Great review, the passionate ones are so much more fun to read (and write)!

  5. Kevin Kim beat me to mentioning some of the other childhood TV entertainments that became embedded in the consciousness of an entire generation (of which I am a part). You might as well hate A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Wizard of Oz, too. You could say the exact same things about those that you said about The Sound of Music.

    Had you actually not seen this until you were well into adulthood I could more easily understand your loathing, as I know you hate the unreality of musicals. The fact that you saw it as a child like most everyone else of our generation makes me wonder if you were already into horror films at a really young age.

  6. @Alex--glad to know I'm not alone.

    @Jay--Yes, true. It's far more fun to read vitriol than praise.

    @Chip--Yes and no. See, I saw both the Charlie Brown Christmas and The Wizard of Oz in childhood and I love them both. I really don't hate The Sound of Music because it's a musical. I hate it because I hate the attitude of it. It's so syrupy, so glurgy.

    I wasn't into horror movies when I saw this; instead, I was a chicken at that time. I wasn't really into horror until 1982, and I definitely saw this before the summer I was 14.

  7. "Musical lovers will find everything here to love"

    Sio = musical lover.

    Sio = very much not a fan of Sound of Music.

    Now, while I hardly spew the venom at this film that YOU do, I am also cringing in anticipation of watching it again in order to review it. I love musicals, man, but I actively avoid Rodgers and Hammerstein, and this is possibly the pinnacle of everything they were about. I don't know. I love the MGM classic musicals, but I really can't get behind Rodgers and Hammerstein, and jeez, this one is soooooooooo loooooooooooooong. I mean yeah, as you say in this, some of the songs are good (I like the Lonely Goatherd, that's a catchy one!), but I guess I'd rather just watch the songs I like and fast forward through the rest of it. It NEVER resonated with me, even as a child.

    I love musicals, but not this one, man. Not this one.

    1. Well, yeah, but...

      Sio = hates epics

      The Sound of Music = epic

      See, you just need the right equation.

  8. So what you're basically saying is, when you sing your own rendition of "My Favorite Things," which I know you do quite often, this doesn't make the list?


    1. Guilty as charged. I like to imagine you singing about deer and sunshine while traipsing over a mountain.

  9. I loathe this movie so much that I can't even stomach to read the review (no offense to your writing Steve - you are brilliant at this).

    (singing and doing a nazi soldier dance) Watching any copy of this movie being destroyed is one of my favorite things.

  10. "Watching any copy of this movie being destroyed is one of my favorite things."

    You should copyright that statement.

  11. I have been counting The Sound of Music as a List movie that I've already seen for quite some time. But I'm not really sure I've ever seen it all the way through. My mom played the soundtrack all the time, so a lot of the music is embedded in brain. And I'm sure I saw it on stage (a college production, maybe? Mom used to take us to live theater all the time) once or twice. And I have some very sharp memories of the Lonely Goatherd puppet show.

    So I've been meaning to watch it for the last few years. I got it from the library and watched it on Labor Day.

    I actually found it mostly very entertaining.

    There's some stuff near the end, between the children's So Long Farewell song at the party and the start of the festival, that had me yawning a bit.

    But mostly I liked it well enough and didn't have trouble watching it, despite its length.

    The Lonely Goatherd - which I loved as a kid! - is even better now! It reminds me of some of the numbers in Footlight Parade because it's physically impossible for the von Trapp children to manage those marionettes. I was laughing so hard through the whole scene because it was absurd!

    (Although my mother - who went to Catholic school for a time) said, well, Julie Andrews was trained by nuns, and that would have made her super efficient at making children do what she wanted.)

    I was also very amused that one of the von Trapp children is Nicholas Hammond - who played Spider-Man in the 1970s TV series - and one of the girls is Angela Cartwright, Penny Robinson from Lost in Space!

    Also, my research discovered that the real Captain von Trapp was a U-boat captain in World War I - not for Germany but for the Austria-Hungarian Imperial Navy. I'm a bit of a history buff and I don't think I've ever heard anything about Austrian U-boats. Captain von Trapp actually had a pretty impressive record of downing cargo ships.

    One major thing I really have to disagree with you about: The Sound of Music would have to be very very bad before it's OK to root for the Nazis to get Julie Andrews. You should be ashamed of yourself!