‘Sound of Music’s Maria Still Beating the Nazis after 50 years

Culture Watch
tags: theater reviews, Sound of Music

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of The Sound of Music, the marvelous story of nun novitiate Maria, o Salzburg, the rambunctious children of Captain Von Trapp and the tough guy Austrian captain himself. For half a century, Maria has been singing, dancing and twirling her way across the Alps and into the hearts of people around the world.

Why? What makes the movie and sage play both lovable and timeless?

Oh, yes, those unforgettable songs like the title tune, My Favorite Things, Do Re Mi, Climb Every Mountain and Edelweiss. Yes, the young and innocent girl who plans to give her heart to God but gives it to the Captain instead. Yes, the admirable cadre of nuns in the town who love her and protect her. And, of course there is the love between governess Maria and the kids and the wonderful love story between the Captain and Maria, whom he just cannot resist.

That is not what drives the play and movie and made it such a success. Just go to any of the numerous screenings of the Sound of Music Sing A Long, the screening of the movie with lyrics printed on the screen so everybody in the audience can sing along with the cast, led by cheerleaders and prompters in the audience. All runs along smoothly until the first Nazi arrives in the story. The prompters then urge the members of the audience to boo and from then until the last climb up the Alps the audience boos, hoots and jeers at the Nazis. That is the secret of The Sound of Music. We love it because we hate the Nazis. We always will.

What if the Nazis were not in the story? Maria marries the Captain and lives happily ever after? The whole brood just sings, dances and twirls all day? Come on! The evil Nazis drive the story. The Von Trapp family has to come up with a way to escape from the grip of the oppressive Nazis and they do, using the music from the show. The beat the Nazis, and have done if for five decades, and that makes the movie such a hit.

The beating up of the Germans will continue all of this year as the twelve month long anniversary celebration unfolds. The TCM network screened the film again last month at its annual film festival in Los Angeles. The Museum of the Moving Image in New York will screen it Sunday, May 2. It will be shown at the Salzburg, Austria, The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary Festival June 22-27, where visitors can join choral groups in singing the songs from the musical at the sights in Salzburg where they were filmed. Four new books about the making of the film will be published ad it will be the centerpiece of a special Princess cruise. Last year, NBC staged a live play that drew sensational ratings. The restored film was screened this past Saturday night in 500 U.S. theaters and will be shown again on Wednesday. Fox is releasing a five disc blu-ray DVD version of the film this spring. Several pop artists have covered songs from the film and last month, on the Grammy broadcast, Lady Gaga did a much praised medley of selections from the show.

The Sound of Music Sing A Long was staged at the Performing Arts Center, in Purchase New York and will be staged next at the Nicolet Theater, in Rhinelander, Wisconsin on June 17 (people are invited to dress up like characters in the film and hold parades inside the theater, too)

The movie won five Oscars and is one of the highest grossing movies of all time (adjusted for inflation).

Julie Andrews, 79, who played Maria in the film, said in a statement that “This one stuck because it was very well made with beautiful music and a lot of glorious assets like scenery and mountains and children and an adventure story and a love story and all of that.”

The movie had some historical hic cups. You are led to believe that the Captain and Maria were married, returned home and then fled the Nazis. Actually, they fled eleven years after the marriage. They did not hike over the Alps singing as they trudged, either. They just jumped on a train and left. The grim looks on the faces of Austrians in the film concerning the nation’s 1938 alliance with Germany was a bit misleading, too; most Austrians were OK with the alliance and Hitler received a hero’s welcome when he arrived in Vienna at the head of a huge parade.

Does anybody really care about the discrepancies? Not really. That’s because now, everywhere, the hills are still alive…

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