Tuesday, May 10, 2011

That's Typing Tuesday #2: The Sound Of Music

"That's Typing" Tuesday, in which I share unpolished, unpublished writings from my vast store of unpolished, unpublished writings. On Tuesdays.

This, from my notes on The Sound of Music:

The Academy's choice for best picture of 1965, The Sound of Music, is not the worst movie to ever win the Oscar for best picture, but thanks to the weakness of its potential competition, it may be the worst movie to nevertheless deserve to win for best picture.

... Dramatically, the movie is the story of Maria's search for her purpose in life, and that story reaches its perfect conclusion with her marriage while the nuns reprise the song "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" Really, a perfect ending to a great little musical/romantic comedy.
And then it's like somebody ran into the editing room and said, "Oh, hell, we're thirty minutes short, can you tack on some Nazis?"

I realize, of course, that Maria's escape from the Nazis was the real-life incident that inspired the story in the first place, but the fact is, the writers never figured out how to integrate the politics and the love story, and so they distill out like oil and water into two separate movies, with one storyline poking its head in from time to time to nod hello to the other, until by the end, they break apart altogether.

And then there's the acting.

The kids are fine, I guess—Kym Karath, who got her finger caught in Friedrich's teeth, is adorable—but Richard Haydn and Ben Wright (Max and Herr Zoeller, respectively) play their parts like refugees from a rejected episode of
Hogan's Heroes, while Eleanor Parker and Christopher Plummer—well, how can I put this: I love Parker's early work and I think Plummer's later work was sublime, but here they meet in the middle of their careers and frankly, they're just awful.

Plummer as Captain von Trapp is so coy in his scenes with Julie Andrews, he comes across not like a grieving widower stunned to find himself suddenly raising seven children alone but more like a bewildered teenage virgin who has no idea where those children came from in the first place. Did the late Madame von Trapp find them under a cabbage leaf (or perhaps a sprig of edelweiss)? Watching Plummer fumble his way through his seduction of Julie Andrews, you might think so.

As for Eleanor Parker, who was very good in such movies as Caged and The Naked Jungle, she plays the Baroness like she's auditioning for the part of Cruella de Ville in a Walt Disney cartoon. This was Parker on the way down—it's all Love Boat and Fantasy Island from here on out—and if you remember and care about her work in the Fifties, it's painful to watch.

And yet Julie Andrews is sublime. It might be the best performance by an actress in a musical ever. At least I can't think of a better one. Ginger Rogers was indispensable to Top Hat and Swing Time, certainly; Judy Garland was a dynamo until drug addiction caught up with her; and Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe are a wonderful team in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But better?

In any event,
The Sound Of Music rides on Julie Andrews's shoulders. She supplies all the energy, all the emotion, all the truth, and when she's not on screen, the movie turns sluggish, and drowns in its own insincerity.

Next Tuesday: random notes about Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.

16 comments:

Mythical Monkey said...

Dear Readers,

I hate that I used the word "sublime" twice in the same post, but I promised myself I wasn't going to edit these things. Would defeat the purpose, I think.

Yer pal forever,
Mythical Monkey

Jeanie Callaghan said...

Oh, I so agree with you on all counts. And sad to say, if I voice any of my feelings about this film to friends, they look at me as though I were a cynical monster. How could you NOT love it? It's cute and heartwarming - but not in a good way. To me, "The Music Man" was cute and heartwarming - but in a good way. It didn't take itself seriously, just had fun. But I digress. I attended this film with a friend who was going to take me to the prom the next week. We weren't boyfriend and girlfriend-just friends who needed dates. The choice of film was his idea-not mine. I gritted my teeth throughout. Reminds me of another time with I attended with some friends a double feature of "Dr. Strangelove" with "Pajama Party." THEY wanted to see the later, I wanted to see the former. Strangelove was first on the bill and they hooted throughout. But they LOOOOOOOOVED Pajama Party! I feel as though I grew up an alien. Do you relate?

Mythical Monkey said...

I'm really not a cynic, at least when it comes to movies -- I'll eat up the hokiest rom-com with a spoon.

But I wrote up my notes for The Sound of Music after seeing it again for the first time in many, many years, and I was struck by its oddly artificial feel, like it was making a very conscious, over-the-top effort to harken back to a more innocent time. Except if you know the history of movies, there was never such a time. It makes those Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney musicals seem positively cynical by comparison.

Indeed, overall, The Sound of Music seems cynical and condescending in its very calculated sweetness. It's one thing to be true and passionate, the world be damned; it's another thing altogether to say "Here's one for the rubes and the suckers."

Yet I never get that feeling from Julie Andrews herself. I suspect that she was the only person on the set over the age of ten who really believed in what she was doing.

The Music Man, on the other hand, has Robert Preston's brilliant performance at the heart of it, about a hilariously cynical man who discovers that deep down he desperately wants to believe in something. There are a couple of sequences that I think drag -- the split screen Shirley Jones/Buffalo Bills duet, and Buddy Hackett doing "Shiboopi" -- but overall a great movie.

In fact, in law school, a friend of mine was dating an undergraduate named Marian who worked part-time as the school librarian (seriously). So four of us learned the song "Marian the Librarian" and went down there and sang it to her in the middle of the undergraduate library's lobby.

I'm a shy man by nature, but for a laugh, I'd do almost anything. In high school, some friends of mine and I worked up a version of "Silver Bells" that segued into "Summer in the City" -- "Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the hot town, summer in the city ..." then went Christmas caroling at various friends houses.

Ah, nutty times.

Worst movie I ever got roped into, by the way, was Endless Love, the Brook Shields movie. I was visiting a pal in Tacoma, Georgia, and a woman he was seeing really wanted to see it. I think I was permanently damaged by the experience.

thingy said...

Terrific post. : )

I felt bad for Maria because I never felt she was loved by the Captain as much as she loved him.

I'm so glad you mentioned the oddness of the happy singing group and then this dark nazi addition.

whistlingypsy said...

My history with The Sound Of Music is a bit reversed from most viewers; I never watched the film as a child and I’m not entirely sure of the reason. I first saw the film around the age of thirty, and I found the musical elements and the story line enchanting. I suspect I wanted a bit of a boost during a somewhat difficult time, and the message seemed to reach a part of me that needed to believe anything was possible. I haven’t seen the film in years (and years) and perhaps I would be less openhearted about the story today; the lyrics to Sixteen Going On Seventeen and Something Good were a bit troubling. (I wonder if the stage version with Mary Martin had less of the “calculated sweetness” that you observe in the film). Your observation regarding Eleanor Parker is spot on, her role as the Baroness was my introduction to her as an actress, and I it didn’t leave me with a favorable opinion of her. It was wonderful to discover her earlier films and the roles that displayed her talent as a fine actress. Funny thing, I didn’t notice you had used the sublime word twice, but then I have an abundant and profuse fascination for adjectives in my writing. I have seen Miss Pettigrew, and I’m looking forward to reading your observations on the film.

Mythical Monkey said...

I wonder how I would feel about The Sound of Music if I had come to late -- I first saw it probably around age ten when my parents took us to see a revival of it (I remember they also took us to see Gone With The Wind, but I digress) and then I saw it again in a theater in college. And of course it was on television once a year, but I mostly skipped those airings because it was so chopped up and edited to fit a time slot it was ridiculous.

Then I didn't see it again until maybe a year ago when I picked up the DVD cheap. I knew going it had problems integrating the politics and the romance, but I had been too young to see what I now consider to be its odd tone.

By the way, with regard to a political-romantic movie done right, look again at Casablanca. Ilsa admires Richard Blaine for his politics, becomes disgusted with him when he abandons his political beliefs out of spite, then ironically enough, finds herself on a plane to Lisbon with her husband when Rick rejoins the fight. She couldn't love him when he left the fight but couldn't be with him when he rejoined it. The politics and the romance are perfectly integrated -- one directly affects the other.

Whereas in The Sound of Music, Captain von Trapp could be having an argument with his building contractor for all the impact it has on his relationship with Maria. Sure, they have to flee the country, but she would have left with him if he'd said "I have a hankering for cannolis -- let's move to America and get some."

But these are just my feelings about it.

As for Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, Katie-Bar-The-Door and I saw it in the theater when it first came out. I would have thought a comedy with Frances McDormand and Amy Adams -- especially such a good one -- would have been a solid box office hit, but I don't know five people who've ever seen it.

Yvette said...

I saw MISS PETTIGREW but sad to say,I fast forwarded through most of it. Didn't like it one little bit. And I expected to really and truly enjoy it. I even love the title! So, can't wait to see what you have to say about it next week.

As for SOUND OF MUSIC, I agree with most of what you have to say except that I have to admit when I saw it in the theater, ages ago, I swooned over Christopher Plummer's scenes with Julie Andrews.

And I did then and do now, like the opening sequence. And yes, Julie Andrews is purely sublime. Twice. :)

Jeanie Callaghan said...

Julie Andrews had the same appeal that Princess Di had 20 years later.

Mythical Monkey said...

By the way, I typed "Tacoma" Georgia -- obviously, I meant Toccoa, Georgia ...

whistlingypsy said...

May I add a few thoughts to clarify my earlier comments? I have recently been thinking about how fans of classic films (any films, really) can often share fond memories of the same film, and simultaneously share friendly disagreements over other films. I have also realized (in my own life) how a response to a film can change for bad or good over time. I should have said that your observations prompted a change in my thoughts regarding Sound of Music, a few which I hadn’t considered. The thought that I hadn’t been more sensitive to the place and time, during which the film is set, is a bit troubling. The one active statement Captain von Trapp makes regarding the Nazis is when he returns from his honeymoon and destroys the flag. Beyond this single act, as you observed, there is no acknowledgment of the threat and Captain von Trapp appears simply inconvenienced by his country’s new regime. However, there is that glorious moment when the family is escaping and sings, “Climb every mountain,” which might still hold some of the original poignancy. A great post MM, with much to ponder when musicals meet politics.

Ford said...

Julie Andrews?

I fucked her!






Whoa! Ba Da bing !

Worc said...

Hi MM! I think Jack Lemmon said exactly the film that deserved the Oscar, I actually prefer to sing with Maria instead to cry with Yevgraf Zhivago. It's just my point of view. By the way is an excellent post.

A greeting.

Mythical Monkey said...

I actually prefer to sing with Maria instead to cry with Yevgraf Zhivago. It's just my point of view.

Me, too, actually. I come across too hard on The Sound of Music -- Julie Andrews would have been my choice for best actress that year, and with the possible exception of Repulsion, which wasn't nominated, I'd probably pick it as the best picture of 1965.

I can see this may be the downside of That's Typing Tuesday -- usually before I post I try to balance my criticisms with what I like. But it's also a bit liberating, just letting one side of my brain have at it without waiting for the other side to jump in.

Mythical Monkey said...

Julie Andrews?

I fucked her!


Actually, us fans of the Battlestar Galactica remake know the word is "fracked." As in "Julie Andrews? I fracked her."

I didn't, of course. Had a huge crush on her as an impressionable young boy, though.

Along with Tina Louise, Diana Rigg, Julie Newmar and Sally Ann Howes. Try reconciling all that in one psyche ...

Mythical Monkey said...

Oh, and Yvonne Craig, Betty Rubble and lord knows who else.

Okay, so I watched a lot of television growing up ...

Mythical Monkey said...

Got tired of waiting for Blogger to restore all the missing comments.

Ford Fairlane: Julie Andrews? I fucked her! Whoa! Ba Da bing !

Worc: Hi MM! I think Jack Lemmon said exactly the film that deserved the Oscar, I actually prefer to sing with Maria instead to cry with Yevgraf Zhivago. It's just my point of view. By the way is an excellent post. A greeting.

Mythical Monkey: I actually prefer to sing with Maria instead to cry with Yevgraf Zhivago. It's just my point of view. Me, too, actually. I come across too hard on The Sound of Music -- Julie Andrews would have been my choice for best actress that year, and with the possible exception of Repulsion, which wasn't nominated, I'd probably pick it as the best picture of 1965. I can see this may be the downside of That's Typing Tuesday -- usually before I post I try to balance my criticisms with what I like. But it's also a bit liberating, just letting one side of my brain have at it without waiting for the other side to jump in.

Mythical Monkey: Julie Andrews? I fucked her! Actually, us fans of the Battlestar Galactica remake know the word is "fracked." As in "Julie Andrews? I fracked her." I didn't, of course. Had a huge crush on her as an impressionable young boy, though. Along with Tina Louise, Diana Rigg, Julie Newmar and Sally Ann Howes. Try reconciling all that in one psyche ...

Mythical Monkey: Oh, and Yvonne Craig, Betty Rubble and lord knows who else. Okay, so I watched a lot of television growing up ...