June 4, 2005


'The Sound of Music': 40 years of unstoppable success (Todd S. Purdum, WEDNESDAY, 5/31/05, The New York Times)

Its director was the editor of "Citizen Kane." Its screenwriter was the author of "North by Northwest." Its composers were the most successful songwriting team in American theater history. And "The Sound of Music" was the movie that everybody hated but the people.

Christopher Plummer, Captain von Trapp himself, is said to have called it "The Sound of Mucus." Robert Wise, the director, worried with Julie Andrews, the eternal Mary Poppins, about what they could do to remove a spoonful (or two) of the schmaltz. Pauline Kael, who would become the reigning film critic of her era, denounced it as "the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat."

And yet 40 years ago, "The Sound of Music" was not just the summer movie of 1965. It was the spring, fall and winter one, too, and in inflation-adjusted dollars, it remains the third-biggest-grossing film of all time at the domestic box office, according to Box Office Mojo.

It hit the Billboard Top 40 video sales chart shortly after it became one of the first movies ever released on home video in 1979 and still holds the chart's longevity record, of more than 300 weeks and counting.

Twentieth Century Fox plans to release a special 40th-anniversary two-DVD edition in November, with new documentary material (including interviews with Andrews, other cast members and creators) prepared by Michael Kantor, who directed the PBS series "Broadway: The American Musical" last year.

What explains such colossal success? "It's mainly the script," said Wise, who will turn 91 in September and once estimated that he had been asked that question an average of twice a week since the film's premiere on March 2, 1965. "It's a family film; nothing more universal."

When Ernest Lehman, the highly regarded screenwriter of movies like "Somebody Up There Likes Me" and "Sweet Smell of Success," told his friend Burt Lancaster that he was working on "The Sound of Music," Lancaster responded that he must have needed the money.

But, in hindsight, a compelling case can be made for "The Sound of Music," as the last picture show of its kind, a triumph of craftsmanship and the apogee of the studio system that produced the kind of entertainment that dominated mid-20th-century mass culture.

How else would we all know the words of the Austrian national anthem?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 4, 2005 2:32 PM


Posted by: oj at June 4, 2005 7:03 PM

When I was fourteen, I saw it five times and couldn't stop talking about it. I bored the heck out of all my more cool and cynical friends. I had no idea then that it was a definifng moment for my conservatism.

doh, a deer....etc. is just Hayek and Friedman put to melody.

Posted by: Peter B at June 4, 2005 7:43 PM

When she was 2 the middle child decided to watch a tape of it every day, 2 or 3 times a day. I am pretty sure I know the entire thing by heart. My wife weeps whenever she hears the the words "Sound of Music.'

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 4, 2005 7:50 PM

Sound of Music was the first movie I saw in the theater as a child! We have the sound track on both 33.3rpm record and CD. My daughters have played the movie (VHS) scores of times. It's a classic for all times and generations (more or less).

BTW, the national anthem of Osterreich(Austria) is "Land der Berge, Land am Strome" (Land of Mountains, Land on the River." Mozart wrote the tune.

Posted by: Dave W. at June 4, 2005 9:13 PM

Actually, in Maria's own description of the confrontation with a Hitlerite stooge wanting them to display the German flag, Georg is far funnier than in the movie.

Posted by: Kirk Parker at June 4, 2005 9:29 PM

I was 23 at the time of Sound of Music's theater release. Really was a pretty enjoyable flick, one time viewing!
However, it was the "chick" flick of '65 so I, as any male would, saw it many more times than would be desired, as the desire for the the date far outweighed my desire for multiple viewings of the superb movies "The Great Race" and "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines", also available at the time.
People today have no idea how enjoyable a weekly trip to the movies was in the 50's & 60's. Really fun, no coarse language problems, no explicit violence/gore problems and even the recognized trend setting movies, The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy, didn't beat you over the head with their socio/econo/political beliefs.
Ah well, unless you were there, it's a pretty good chance you have no idea of what I'm talking about.

Posted by: Mike Daley at June 4, 2005 10:44 PM

I saw the show at Jones Beach when I was a kid out on a stage that's surrounded by water. No idea what year it would have been.

Posted by: oj at June 4, 2005 11:06 PM

Ah yes, the phlegmboyant Christopher Plummer...

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 5, 2005 8:05 AM

I was stage manager for what my kids' high school drama club called its 'adult production,' which was a summer deal.

The local Assembly of God, which has a huge theatrical department, provided almost all the adults.

It was a weird summer. The Christians exorcised the theater before each rehearsal, and Maria, who was married to one of the Nazis, was screwing the pants off one of the men in the cast, whose wife was sewing her costumes.

The church ladies were scandalized.

Funniest show I've ever been involved with.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 6, 2005 3:54 PM