The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: Dreamgirls

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Sound of Music

March 2, 1965   Fox   175 minutes

It's so tempting to dismiss, deride and mock what critics notoriously dubbed "The Sound of Mucus," but there are solid reasons why this became not just the most succesful filmed Bway musical ever, but the most popular movie of all time during the most radical decade of social transformation in the 20th century. A Bavarian stew of nuns, Nazis and nauseatingly well-behaved children; it apparently satisfies the masses on so many levels--and for those exposed to it at an impressionable age remains a seminal film experience. Still, I confess to slightly dreading another viewing of the movie (my 8th), only to find myself shocked silly by how much I enjoyed it again, especially following the airless sanctity of My Fair Lady. To be fair, The Sound of Music hadn't the restrictions of adhering to a sacrosanct text; nor the public clamor for a painstaking preservation of the Bway original. Popular as the show, and especially the score (and album) was, the musical's Bway libretto by veteran playwrights, Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse was little more than serviceable. Adapting the play for the screen was liberating; breathing life and visual drama into the story. Where MFL was forced into a Smithsonian exhibit, TSOM was given celluloid wings.

It's only fitting, if improbably triumphant of Rodgers & Hammerstein to conclude their 16 year merger on yet another high note. Written under the cloud of Hammerstein's declining health, and met with accusations of conventionality and sentiment, the public embraced the musical with that familiar populist fever that built R&H into a national industry. Sound of Music would be their last show to reach the screen as well and achieve a success beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Oscar would never know his final, somewhat chided, somewhat regressive show would go on to become the screen phenomenon that knocked Gone With the Wind off its Hlwd pedestal. It was single-handedly responsible for bringing Fox back from the financial disaster of Cleopatra. Arguably, it could also be blamed for the ultimate demise of the Hlwd musical--for all the bloated, failed, big budget tuners that quickly followed in its wake. As the Next Big Thing, everyone wanted in on the action. But even as successful as some were, no one else came close to the success of R&H.


They came late onto the project, initiated by director Vincent J. Donahue, who having seen a German film on the Trapp Family Singers, sold it as a project for Mary Martin: a play with tunes from the Trapp Family repertoire. Lindsay & Crouse, no strangers to large-scale family plays (their 1939 Life With Father remains the longest running Bway play to this day), were recruited for the book; and eventually Mary got around to asking Oscar & Dick if they'd write a new song or two. Rodgers wondered why stop there, and thus The Sound of Music was born. As dramatists, Lindsay & Crouse were little invested in biographical accuracy--musicals rarely were. Their take on Washington society hostess, Perle Mesta, was so fictionalized in Call Me Madam, they called her Sally Adams. The "Maria Von Trapp," that made it to Bway, was recognizable in name only. Not so those children (in reality not Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta, and Gretl, but Rupert, Agathe, Maria-Fransiska, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Martina.) Dramatic license was taken on many accounts, not least in setting the story a decade later than it happened--a title card reads "In the last Golden Days of the '30s" (a complete misnomer, for where, and least of all in Austria were the '30s "golden"?) thus conflating family misfortunes with the rise of the Third Reich. In truth, the postulant Maria arrived to tutor but one child in the mid- (and relatively carefree) '20s. Baron Von Trapp was a retired naval captain--who'd sunk some 30 British, French and Italian ships--and sired seven children with his first wife, an heiress with a large fortune. Once spoiled, Von Trapp was disinclined to ever work again. Maria's success with his motherless children led to their marriage in 1927, and three more kids. The worldwide Depression brought them to bankruptcy in 1935, which in turn, is what led to public performance, primarily as a survival measure. Success at the Salzburg festival brought them widespread attention, command performances, and many subsequent European tours, including much of Germany before the Reich. Maria led the group onstage--Von Tropp never sang in public--and off. She, not the Baron, was the alpha personality; bossy, stubborn, given to tempers, demanding. She later objected to the hardening of his character in the story; he was really a passive dilettante. An interesting angle left unexplored in the play was an invitation to sing for Hitler in Munich in the summer of '38 that was decisive in propelling their exodus. Tho Von Trapp was invited to join the German navy, they were not hounded by Nazis, nor forced to trek over the Alps on foot to Switzerland, but simply took a train to Italy, where they had legal citizenship. Another fabrication, Maria's vis a vis, "The Baroness," was a character necessary to an otherwise conflict-free romance. In actuality, Maria felt no love for Von Trapp (who was 25 years her senior) when they married--an action taken more for her affection for the children, to whom she was much closer in age. As the only R&H libretto Hammerstein had no hand in writing (aside from lyrics), it nonetheless fits seamlessly within their catalog--tho one can only wonder if Oscar would have tempered some of the saccharine elements that drove criitcs such as Walter Kerr to state the show wasn't merely "too sweet for words, but almost too sweet for music." Mary Martin's winning personality made it critic-proof and insured the show's longevity. She stayed in it for nearly two years, playing to capacity and winning the Tony Award, over no less than Ethel Merman's titanic Rose in Gypsy. At age 46, she was too old for Maria, of course, but from the distance of Row F, it didn't matter, nor certainly did it hurt the record's sales which started the decade off as the country's #1 album for nearly four months. (It charted for 227 weeks--the fourth best-selling OCR to this day). Continuing their longstanding relationship with 20th Century Fox, R&H sold Zanuck the film rights.

Zanuck signed William Wyler to direct after Robert Wise, Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly and George Roy Hill all passed. But Wyler soon bowed out, too, in favor of John Fowles' existential kidnapping drama, The Collector. In the meantime, Wise's dream venture, The Sand Pebbles, stalled, leaving him suddenly available. Of course, West Side Story put him on top of everyone's list. But could he be as successful without Jerome Robbins? (Short answer: yes.) Wyler would finally helm his first screen musical several years later--and one of the few big moneymakers, to boot. It was he who cast Julie Andrews as Maria, having seen her on Bway in My Fair Lady and in rushes from some little thing she was making over in Burbank for Walt Disney. But Julie already had a record of association with R&H; having been considered for the ingenue lead in their Pipe Dream, and then--while still starring in MFL (which Oscar encouraged her to accept over Pipe Dream)--taking a mere 2 weeks off to rehearse and perform on live TV, Cinderella, a musical they specifically wrote for her--and seen by an audience of over one hundred million. 
A few years later, she satirized TSOM ("The Pratt Family Singers") in a celebrated, Emmy-winning, TV special: "Julie & Carol (Burnett) At Carnegie Hall," (which is now readily accessible on YouTube) So her casting was as uncontroversial as it was inevitable--rumors of Doris Day notwithstanding. At 42, Dodo in close-up would've been more absurd than Mary Martin on stage at 46. Even at 28 Julie was older than the real Maria--who was 21 when she arrived at Villa Von Trap;, the real age of Charmain Carr (playing 16 going on 17, Liesl). No matter--Andrews could hardly have been better. If her casting was obvious, the same can't be said of Christopher Plummer--a choice as unlikely as it was brilliant. A classical/character actor from the start; they didn't realize how young he was when inviting him to audition for the original Bway production. Playing a romantic lead in a musical wasn't quite his cup of tea anyway, so it's unclear why he acquiesed for the film. But his skepticism was beneficial in making Von Trapp a more vivid personage. If his challenge was fighting boredom, he sparked Andrews into new territory: acting. Tho she'd been performing on stages since childhood, film was another discipline entirely. She took to it well, tho most of Mary Poppins relied on her tried and true theatrics--iconic as it is, it wasn't really a great performance--more of a vaudeville turn. Wise and Plummer drew a new maturity from her, a real authenticity, stripped of all her music hall mannerisms--an essential element in balancing the broad, theatrical nature of the musical sequences.

Wise chose his West Side Story screenwriter, Ernest Lehman, to adapt this tuner with a good deal more free reign. The play hints at scenes untenable on stage--including a clunky conclusion. Lehman brings a long movie to a close with a welcome spurt of tension--a chase with Nazis in pursuit, a graveyard escape--even a punchline for nuns (with carburetors). On stage, Liesl's Nazi-youth boyfriend, Rolf lets them escape when he sees his former girl. Lehman has him blow the whistle. In the play, 11 year old Britta--of all people--informs Maria that she and her father are in love. Lehman gives The Baroness this task. Tho the children remain impossibly perfect, there's at least some hint of disobediance and mischief that was missing on Bway. (As the screen's leading nanny, Julie should have played at least one more, this time facing a brood of untameable brats.) Songs are relocated for better effect. There isn't a change Lehman made that isn't an improvement. Whether or not with tongue-in-cheek, Wise starts the film from above, cribbing Saul Bass's overhead shots of Manhattan in West Side Story. And why not? What better way to bring us so deliriously into the Austrian landscape, floating over the Alps, coming down to that famous helicopter shot with the slash-cut--not to finger-snapping hoods but to Julie Andrews twirling on alpine meadow, belting "the hills are alive..." (a phrase now in such common vernacular as to be known by virtually everyone). Far more than even WSS, (whose verisimilitude was really more studio manufactured than not) TSOM benefits incalcuably from its location photography--a terrain rarely exploited by Hlwd.
A good deal of the film's appeal beyond children, is its strong, convincing love story. Plummer's commanding masculine presence makes his slow softening all the more riveting. Not unlike Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind--he holds the screen with utter conviction; a key ingredient in making both motion pictures the runaway hits of their times. In his intimate moments with Andrews the emotional tension is arresting. Their impromptu dance to the "Laendler" is packed with unspoken meaning--it's one of the absolute highlights of the picture. If TSOM didn't lead Plummer to more of a film career as a matinee idol, it was likely by his choice. Tho he made movies steadily thru the decades, he wasn't truly appreciated until well into his senior years--earning the distinction of being the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar--only forty-seven years after TSOM. Conversely, Julie Andrews won hers only a month after Music's release--which betrayed a premature and unnecessary industry bias. She was already more deserving for Maria than Mary, and would predictably earn her second nom the following year, but lose to another Julie: Christie--who was also rapidly conquering the screens; more evidence that the British were taking over the world. Eleanor Parker was among the top tier of Hlwd actresses a decade earlier (earning 3 Oscar noms in the early '50s), but is mostly forgotten today, and would be even more so were in not for her role as "The Baroness" (Elsa Schraeder). Lovely as she looks at age 42, her emotive acting is in stark relief to the simplicity of Andrews' work; telegraphing the obvious choice for Von Trapp from the moment she enters the picture. Listen to her scarcely disguised contempt as she begrudging compliments Maria, "My dear, is there anything you can't do?" upon conclusion of a puppet show on the level of the Bil Baird marionettes (which of course, these are) that Maria has absurdly whipped up for an afternoon's entertainment. I couldn't help but think Joan Crawford was coaching from the wings. Parker seems to be channeling a late period Crawford (who you know would have killed for this part). Of the 7 Von Trapp children, less than half leave a lasting impression. Liesl, of course, because of the prominence of her role. It's surprising that Charmain Carr has but one other credit in her acting career, the female lead in the esoteric Stephen Sondheim TV musical, Evening Primrose. Angela Cartwright is memorable more for the fact that she was the single recognizable face, having played Danny Thomas's daughter on Make Room for Daddy--a top ten sitcom for nearly a decade. And then there's Gretl: Kym Karath (with chubby cheeks, bearing an uncanny resemblance to John McCain), already a Hlwd veteran at age five; a tot in comedies with Doris Day, James Garner, Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon; her "cuteness" signified by an astonishing self-possession for a toddler. She later worked only in TV and grew into something of a bombshell. Filmed reunions of the much-aged movie kids (the Bonus DVD features one such--reveal a "family" forever locked into its seminal experience--there's a sitcom premise here somewhere). But cynical expectations aside, they remain quite likeable as adults. (Numerous examples are readily available on Youtube.) In fact there's no shortage of material available on virtually every aspect of the movie, including an industry built around Sound of Music tours in Salzburg--to the chargrin of the locals in Mozart's home town. Among the many DVD Bonus tracks, Robert Wise has a mildy interesting feature-length commentary but remains silent thru the musical numbers. As the track is free of all vocals (speech & song) this is a rare treat for students of orchestration to hear clearly beyond the veil. Also present are all the sound effects, some of which are quite surprising. But it's lovely to hear the full 70 piece studio orchestra, under direction of Irwin Kostal--another returning player from West Side Story.
It's hard to fault Rodgers' score, even if some are put off by its sweetness, or if you prefer, sincerity. One can be cynical about songs like "16 Going on 17" or "Maria"--with its chirping nuns that borders on shades of Monty Python--but the melodic felicity is inviting and of a piece with the best work from this Mozart of American music. Some carped on the lack of advancement from this once revolutionary team. But look closer, there is something interesting in the overall structure of the piece--and key to its broad appeal. Let's start at the very beginning: the title is so familiar now, but there's something unusual and profound in the idea. Music, by its very nature is a sound;  But to think of it first as merely, purely, sound is a subtle bit of deconstruction. Of course that song ("the hills are alive...") broadens the idea to include all of nature into its own terrestrial orchestra. The Sound of Music shares with The Music Man the most primal and literal use of music as an agent of healing and transformation. One of the reasons children are so swept up in the musical, is that Rodgers provides a veritable introduction to its basics, without sacrificing any of his composing intelligence--accessible to children without insult to the adult ear. Could there be a more infectious introduction to singing than "Do Re Mi"? It's a virtual template for Sesame Street; and after five decades can still give me a thrill. And isn't "Lonely Goatherd," an intro to yodeling? (I would be remiss without mentioning the vocal bridge at 2:05 in the song that never fails to snag my ear; four bars of the most ecstatic harmony I've ever heard.) All right, I could do without, "So Long, Farewell," but its dramatic context late in the story still works. Generally overlooked is something entirely new from Rodgers: liturgical music--a challenge he embraced, unable to accept the idea of using existent hymns. All church music should sound this good. Likewise, "Edelweiss," feels so authentic an Austrian lullaby, that many assume it is. (This was Hammerstein's final lyric--written in tryout out of town; an improbably perfect note of closure.) "Climb Every Mountain" completes their trio of inspirational anthems (with Carousel's "You'll Never Walk Alone," and King and I's "Something Wonderful"), and for those resistant to such powerhouse arias for sopranos (and I've been there, believe me) it can be a chore to take in. But the song itself is so breathtaking; so untouched by any melodic cliche--while so inevitable to the ear. Anyone can write an emphatic song, but few can pull off one that seduces rather than insists. It also has one of the greatest bridges ever ("A dream that will need all the love you can give/Ev'ry day of your life for as long as you live."), a scaled ascension that evokes the feel of scaling peaks. The musical's most errant song, "My Favorite Things" suggests a melodic direction Rodgers would further pursue in his first post-Hammerstein show, No Strings. The tune's true cred lies in the numerous jazz versions that followed; most notoriously, John Coltrane's famed 14 minute track. It has also, rather strangely, become a staple on countless Christmas albums--a context it doesn't share in either pic or play. The film does it justice, relocated from a duet with the Mother Superior, to a bonding scene with Maria and the children. Better still is what immediately follows: a two-piano instrumental that accompanies the troupe parading about Saltzburg, and if the joys of the scenery and frolicking children isn't spirit raising enuf, the music propels the sequence to the realm of Rahadlakhum. All this is prologue to an even more joyful noise: "Do Re Mi"--an obvious precursor to the heavily edited music videos that will become commonplace in the '80s. You can feel the audience leaning forward to partake in the joy. Of the three songs cut for the movie; "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It" were sardonic numbers for Elsa & Max deemed extraneous for the film; reducing the role of  Baroness to one of endless eye-rolling and modeling '30s couture. "An Ordinary Couple" was replaced with a new song by Rodgers, "Something Good," a sentiment better suited to the younger Andrews. Rodgers wrote a second song for Julie as well (both to his own lyrics): "I Have Confidence," which serves as a cinematic journey from the abbey to Von Trapp manor. Given the picture's sweep of Oscar nominations, it's surprising neither song made the cut--edged out by the likes of "The Ballad of Cat Ballou," or a sappy Mancini ballad, "The Sweetheart Tree" from The Great Race--the Oscar going to (deservedly) "The Shadow of Your Smile." 


At any rate, Rodgers couldn't dwell on the snub for by then he was deeply embroiled in his latest stage musical: Do I Hear a Waltz? which opened on Bway just two weeks after the film's premiere, to far less acclaim or success. The combined forces of Rodgers with Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents loomed a thrilling prospect. Based on Laurents' bittersweet play, The Time of the Cuckoo (whose neurotic heroine brings misery upon herself while blaming all around her), the trio worked on a split vision--the younger savants adhering to the sharper unpleasantness of the play; whereas Rodgers envisioned a travelogue romance for a prim spinster, much in the way David Lean had adapted Laurents' play for his sparkling film, Summertime--with Katherine Hepburn in one her most luminous performances.. A perfect vehicle for a fiftyish Mary Martin; instead they went with 30-something, aspiring star, Elizabeth Allen. It killed her career. Sondheim says Rodgers was by then paranoid of his talent drying up (Waltz proved something of a last hurrah--with much of his melodic signature still intact); but dissension between the creators doomed the musical to a shorter run than even Pipe Dream. But if Rodgers' star was falling on Bway, the R&H brand was skyrocketing on screen and around the world. Like it or not, this was the absolute summit of Bway's hold on popular culture. Never again would a musical be this popular, this emotionally binding across all generations (if not all races), this immune to criticism, this far afield of the zeitgeist, as to be a zeitgeist of its own.


The movie opened on March 2, 1965 at the Rivoli theater on Bway one block south of the Winter Garden, where la Streisand was selling out (tho often sleepwalking thru) Funny Girl. Inconceivably, no less than three other shows on Bway that year would star Babs once they made it to the screen. A second year of the World's Fair was still looming, and The Big Street was bustling with hits like Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, Golden Boy and The Odd Couple. On screens, Goldinger and Zorba the Greek were drawing crowds. Three other Roadshows were currently in Times Square: The Greatest Story Ever Told, Lord Jim, and My Fair Lady--still selling out in its 20th week of reserved seats. It would run for 87 weeks, till June of '66; but Sound of Music would last 93 weeks at the Rivoli--longer than even This is Cinerama--to be replaced by Wise's next epic, The Sand Pebbles (which lasted for 36). Music had record runs in reserved-seat engagements thruout the country, with high rates of repeat customers. It was still in initial wide release when I first saw it in January of '68 at the Chatsworth theatre, a cinder-block four-wall in the remote NW corner of the monstrously incorporated City of Los Angeles. Weathered chalk-yellow rock mountains that served as b.g. for thousands of Westerns hovered over this suburban outpost, making a severe juxtaposition to the Austrian Alps. I was 15 then, and could've been more cynical, or resistant, but instead was taken in completely. I would see it several more times over the decades, and then again in 70mm in Century City upon a restored-print release in 1990--only to find myself wrapped up in its sweep again. Later, the film would become, for good or bad, ground-zero for the Sing-Along movement. This I resisted, but had to check it out when it came my way to SF's Castro theater. There was the usual costume parade ("nuns," drag queens, of course; "brown paper packages tied up with strings," "the carburetor" etc.) and a shockingly young, entirely non-ethnic, family audience. Singing along to "Do Re Mi" or "Edelweiss" was mild camp (as in summer) fun, but the thought of joining Julie on "Something Good" loomed as agony, so I left at the interval. The "Sing-Along" phenomenon originated in London, where the musical seems to have an even stronger hold. The original British stage production ran nearly twice as long as the NY version--which in itself, closed as the 4th longest running Bway musical (behind My Fair Lady, Oklahoma! and South Pacific). Often revived in Britain, the show took nearly 40 years to return to Bway--surely in great part due to the giant shadow cast by the movie. By then it was common practice to incorporate the songs written for the film into the play. Rebecca Luker assumed the role of Maria, but it was her understudy, newbie Laura Benanti who found the greater success with the show, her breakthru role on Bway.

The musical entered my consciousness thru cultural osmosis. I didn't have the album (not yet at least) but somehow knew a number of the show's songs by the second grade. I had a school buddy, Randall, who knew them as well, and we spent many a recess marching around the playground singing. On the final such occasion, we were trilling "Do Re Mi," with the unabashed glee only a pair of seven year olds can muster, which apparently sent me into a delirious world without boundaries. Lining up for class at the end of recess, my bliss drove me to peck Randall on the cheek--a kiss that couldn't have been more innocent or spontaneous. Beyond my comprehension, Randall reacted by instantly voiding our friendship--never to speak to me again. Well someone had issues. A bit over the top for second grade, I thought, and of course, years later, Randall would grow into the nelliest queen of the bunch. Such was the negative power of musicals. In July of '64 The Sound of Music (starring Janet Blair) was the inaugural production of the Valley Music Theater in Woodland Hills. My new heaven-sent opportunity to see Bway musicals, locally. What I remember of this first encounter is less of the show than the strange theater-in-the-round concept, with the cast running up and down the aisles and the challenges of minimal scenery. It would become a shrine, of sorts, for the next couple of years--about as long as it lasted. When the Roadshow movie arrived the next year (exclusive to the Carthay Circle in Beverly Hills), it was after my parents had curtailed our cinema ventures (especially over the hill into Hlwd), and before those times when I could bike or drive to theaters myself. Having seen the play (much as with My Fair Lady) there was little chance we would go anyway--given my parents were of the Once-is-Quite-Enuf school of cultural appreciation. But I had plenty to entertain myself with at home; by then devouring all the library books I could find on Bway and musicals, and falling under the spell of the great Burns-Mantle Best Plays series, which recorded each theatrical season in minute detail, constructing a circumscribed universe for me to inhabit and study, the way other boys memorized baseball statistics. I had my records (nearly all musicals), fifty or so by then; a radio show played a different OCR nightly at 7--opening me to continuous discoveries. On top of which, I was rabid for primetime TV; another contained universe (in those ancient days When Dinah Shore Ruled the Earth: when there were but 3 networks) with loudly-touted new seasons (like Bway in your living room!) arriving, like school, each September--a medium barely 15 years old and already rife with ritual. It's been said those were the years when Hlwd made movies for adults and TV for kids. Now, it would seem the complete opposite is true. Seems like I was in the right place at the right time. The '64-'65 TV season aired some 30 shows I watched regularly; an era chock full of wacky premises: Bewitched, Gilligan's Island, My Living Doll (with Julie Newmar as a robot), The Man from UNCLE (with a cool and sexy Russian) and a now long-forgotten sitcom called Valentine's Day, with Tony Franciosa as a Bway bachelor, and Flower Drum Song's Jack Soo as his wise-cracking valet, which inflamed my ideas of a Manhattan adulthood. But above all, there was the newly-discovered rococo lifestyle of The Addams Family, which made the very idea of Friday night into an endorphin-fueling promise of excitement and bliss--a feeling I still summon whenever I can. At its core was the recognition of my true spiritual parents: Gomez & Morticia. Bohemian, broad-minded, and unconditionally loving, these were folk I understood. Not "Val" (nee Volodya) and Valentina, those pleasure-adverse, chore-oriented, Soviet war refugees, hiding out in anonymous suburban white America. Since the big "secret" of their origin was exposed when I was nine, little more was offered of their history. I knew only that they came (separately) from some USSR equivalent of Akron or Milwuakee; fled thru Poland & Germany in the War; and met in Philadelphia. I knew we were supposed to be "Yugoslavian," because to be Russian was off-putting. For to many there was no distinction between Russian and Communist. So the best plan of action was to evade it entirely, and just be Americans--albeit Americans with Boris & Natasha accents. Yet on occasion, a reach back to the Motherland would occur. The Moiseyev Ballet on tour in 1961 made big news--(it was parodied in another sketch in the Julie & Carol Carnegie Hall show)--and was catnip to the diaspora. A source of cultural pride for my parents, it made an even stronger impact on me--I was enthralled, and ready to join the corps. Not only was my interest little noted, but--I would find out many years later--V & V had been visited by an actual member of the Moiseyev troupe (some vague familial connection?), but  fearing that I might later "blab" we had a Red in the house, they sent me away to the neighbors. They needn't have worried; their fear of Russian-ness carried over to me as simple embarassment. But to have missed meeting a male member of the Moiseyev (how athletic, how handsome they were!) reverberates still, like a sorely missed portal (I coulda been a contender!) that I consider unforgiveable. Since my parents took great pains to shelter me from most of my Russian heritage; they had no right to be surprised that I didn't much take to it on my own. Another irresistible tug from the Old Country came with the other epic Roadshow of 1965: Doctor Zhivago. Even this didn't merit a trip into Hlwd, so they waited 19 months for it to come to Studio City at "popular prices." I have no idea what reality, or memories it conjured up for them, but my 14 year old self wasn't taken in by the massive snowy vistas and chilly human relations--ugh, Russians! But, as age has made clear, Zhivago makes no concession to facile entertainment or children--and in time I came to appreciate the scope of David Lean's rarefied achievment. (Why do the English make the best Russian movies?) Upon its release in December of '65, Zhivago gave challenge to The Sound of Music as the year's champion movie. They had much in common; both were directed by recent Oscar winners; starred the hottest new actresses in Hlwd--both British, both named Julie; both films had uncommon leading men of exceptional handsomeness; both featured breathtaking epic landscapes of exquisite beauty; both clocked in at 3 hours plus intermission; and both were minting money. The Oscar race positioned them as rivals with 10 nominations each. The tally split evenly, but Music took Best Pic and Wise the director's trophy, testament to the movie's hold given that Zhivago was newer by nearly ten months, and would seem to have the momentum. But as David Lean had won for both his last two pictures, perhaps some felt that was enuf. More astonishing tho, is that four Bway musicals were nominated within the last five years--and three of them won Best Picture (tho not the best one--which David Lean [again] triumphed over.) The Sound of Music was above all, a triumph for Rodgers & Hammerstein, who having conquered, Bway, vinyl, TV and films now had the highest crown in the Variety universe: the Oscar. The shock wave sent Hlwd studios into overdrive for musicals --and as we all know, and shall soon see, there can be only one place to go: down.

Next Up: Stop the World--I Want to Get Off



Report Card:    The Sound of Music
Overall Film:    A
Bway Fidelity:  B
Musical Numbers from Bway: 11  
Musical Numbers Cut from Bway:  3
New Songs:  2 ("I Have Confidence;
                  "Something Good")
Standout Numbers:  "Do Re Mi"
               "My Favorite Things" (over Salzburg)
Casting:   Fresh, untypical, spot-on
Standout Cast:  Andrews, Plummer
Cast from Bway:  None
Direction: Crisp, solid, masterfully restrained
Choreography: Minimal, folksy
Ballet:  None
Scenic Design:  Bavarian, but not fairy tale
Costumes:  Uniforms, curtains, couture
Standout Locations: The Alps, Salzburg
Standout Sets: Abbey graveyard
Titles:  A rousing overture played over vistas
      of Austrian churches
Oscar Noms: 10--5 wins: Best Picture;
     Director; Film Editng, Sound, Scoring.
     Noms only: Actress: (Andrews) Supporting
     Actress (Peggy Wood); Cinematography,
     Art Direction, Costumes
Camp Hall of Fame: "Maria"

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