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The Sound of Music is a 1965 movie based on the Broadway show of the same name written by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. The story is loosely based on the real life story of the Von-Trapp family singers who were the Jackson-5 of their day. Taken out of Austria by their draft-dodging father, they set about a successful career with sickly sweet harmonies on stage, juxtaposed with back stage problems of domestic violence, drugs and alcohol abuse. The stage show and film only hint at these dark times and the dark undertones are often missed by the casual observer due to the cheery tempo abundant major chords of the score.
It is the third highest grossing movie of all time behind Star Wars and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde. The success of the Sound of Music is particularly surprising given the characters’ habit of bursting into song for no apparent reason, something that in the real world lead to one being locked away in special hospitals for the mentally interesting. However, as a concept in film making, the so-called “musical” is very lucrative. The Sound of Music is most notably popular amongst homosexual males and single women in their late twenties upwards.
Maria Von Trapp
Maria is the innocent, butter-wouldn’t-melt lead role played by Julie Andrews. She is introduced as a young woman on the verge of taking her holy vows to become a nun when she is sent away to become a governess for a gaggle of unruly children where she becomes involved with Captain Von Trapp. The character contributes to the debate, “Julie Andrews: Would You?” She does look cute albeit old fashioned but lacks the naughty glint in her eye she has in Mary Poppins which leaves no one in doubt that Bert has well and truly swept her chimney. But then she goes topless in 1981 film S.O.B and frankly it is like walking in on your mother whilst she is changing. It's a tough one.
Captain Georg Von Trapp
The authoritarian Austrian widower who’s ideas of child rearing are based on military discipline with all its associated sexual violence and punish beatings. He is shown to soften during the course of the plot by the playing of soothing music although the dark behaviour is never far from the surface.
The Von Trapp Children
There are seven Von Trapp children who are (youngest to oldest) Gretl, 5, Marta, 7, Brigitta, 10, Kurt, 11, Louisa, 13, Friedrich, 14, Liesl, 16. They are surprisingly good at singing considering that none are supposed to have had any exposure to music before Maria showed up. It is speculated that Gretl and Marta were a product of Captain Von Trapp’s abuse of oldest daughter, Liesl.
Max is a close friend of Captain Von Trapp and is constantly on he look out for musical acts he can exploit, much like the modern day Simon Cowell.
Baroness Elsa Schraeder
The Baroness is Captain Von Trapp’s other love interest. She is often misunderstood as a bitch who wants to sabotage Maria and the Captain’s blossoming relationship so she can move in on him and pack the kids off to boarding school. In reality, her main motivation in sending the children away was to remove them from their abusive father.
A little bastard of character who begins as a messenger boy but eagerly rallies behind the Swastika. As is common with the children of abusive parents to find themselves in relationships with equally abusive partners, Liesl Von Trapp misguidedly falls for the erstwhile Nazi.
Dress in black and white, catholic tendencies.
The story begins with Maria frolicking in a mountain meadow when she should be at prayer in the convent. She spins around singing the title track, “The Sound of Music”. The nuns, irritated at Maria’s increasingly problematic behaviour sing “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” As has always been the way in the Catholic Church, the answer to a problem is not to address it directly but to move the offender away and hope it gets better.
Maria is sent to become the new Governess for Captain Georg Von Trapp’s seven children (seven being symbolic of the Judo-Christian concept of ‘Seven Deadly Sins’). Rumours of Von Trapp’s quick temper were rife and Maria attempts to steel herself against the challenges ahead by singing “I have Confidence”.
Upon arrival at the Von Trapp household, the Captain marches his children out with military precision, dressed in pseudo-military uniforms. It is clear from the look in their eyes that the last vestiges of childhood are slowly ebbing away. Like many children from dysfunctional families, they have behavioural problems which has explained the high turn-over of governesses. After the initial dinner together, oldest daughter Liesl meets with messenger boy Rolf which leads to the duet of “Sixteen going on Seventeen.” It is apparent at this point that there is something not quite right with Rolf because Liesl is quite hot and she is throwing herself at him but he doesn’t seem interested. Suspicious indeed.
Following Liesl sneaking back into the house, a thunderstorm erupts. The storm is intended to be representative of Captain Von Trapp’s dark temper and Maria calms the children by singing “My Favourite Things” to teach them that singing can be a way of mentally escaping the abuse.
Maria gradually bonds with all of the children. She dresses them in clothes made from curtains so that they blend in with the soft furnishings of the house in the hope that their father will not see them on one of his drunken rampages. She develops their musical education teaching them “Do-Re-Mi”. In this song, Richard Rodgers clearly ran out of ideas when it come to describing the note ‘La’, only being able to come up with “La, a note to follow So.” Very lazy song writing.
Maria and the children are caught frolicking by their father who is apoplectic with rage. Having just returned to the house with his lady friend the Baroness Elsa Schraeder and showbiz agent Max Detweiler, he is ready to send Maria back to the convent but then hears the children singing “The Sound of Music” for Max. This reignites a spark of humanity in Captain Von Trapp and can be seen as the start of his redemption. Max wants to put the children in to the Salzburg music festival but the Captain is resistant. He does change his mind about Maria staying knowing that his behaviour is wrong and recognising that Maria’s musical influence is therapeutic. Marian and the children put on a puppet show for the Captain and his friends featuring the song, “The Lonely Goatherd”. This features yodelling, second only to the music you find in Indian Restaurants as the most irritating musical form. Even the Captain joins in on the singing with a rendition of “Edelweiss”.
At a later ball held in the Von Trapp home, the Baroness, concerned that Maria could be an enabler for the Captain’s bad ways convinces her to return to the convent. The children, unawares are sent to bed, singing “So Long, Farewell”. Bed times, like any other simple task become unnecessary long and drawn out affairs when used in musicals.
Maria returns to the convent much to the dismay of the nuns who have only just managed to clean up the mess her dalliances caused last time. The Mother Superior convinces Maria to return to the Von Trapp’s with “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, a metaphor for sleeping around when your young before settling down. Maria returns and finds that Captain Von Trapp is engaged to be married to the Baroness; however, during the song “Something Good”, Maria alludes to what she will let the Captain do to her if he chooses her. Knowing the Baroness would never let him do that, he plumps for Maria and marries her. He becomes a changed man and puts his abusive ways behind him. Whilst on honeymoon, Max enrols the children into the Salzburg festival. Meanwhile, the the Third Reich has annexed Austria and Liesl’s love interest Rolf has become a Nazi and rejects her, confirming the viewer’s suspicion that there was something not right about him.
The Captain and Maria return from their honeymoon to find that he has been called up to join the German Navy. Surprisingly, the Captain is very much anti-Nazi and they decide that they will use the performance at the music festival to cover their escape to Switzerland.
Deleted Scenes and Alternative Ending
“How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?”
The final cut did not shed much light on what problems exactly were being caused by Maria but in an earlier version of the song, the nuns essentially discuss about how Maria fell pregnant to a visiting bishop and the subsequent back street abortion.
“My Favourite things”
Before the thunderstorm, the children confide in Maria that their mother died following lots of shouting from the Captain. The official line that she fell down some stairs was never questioned due to the Captain’s standing in the community. Maria brushes over these concerns as those of an active imagination and begins singing, “My Favourite Things”.
“So Long, Farewell”
After the children have sang themselves to bed and the ball ends, Captain Von Trapp is in a rage about Maria’s departure. He is seen to be visibly drunk, bursting into the girls room with a bottle of champagne in hand. He sits down on Liesl’s bed saying, “So you wanna taste your first Champagne do you, yes?” and forces the bottle into her mouth. The camera pans away to Louisa, her back turned away from the grotesque tableau feigning sleep knowing one day, she may be next. The scene ends with the sound of Liesl humming a reprise of “Mt Favourite Things” between sobs.
As the Von Trapp family attempt escape, the nuns, in what is a more accurate portrayal of the Catholic Church’s cooperation with the Nazis, assist the pursuing soldiers rather than in the primary ending when they help the family by sabotaging the soldiers’ cars. Captain Von Trapp is seen being placed in a car and whisked away while his family are forced into the back of an army truck. A montage ensues during which we learn that as punishment for his attempted desertion, Captain Von Trapp is stripped of his rank and titles and forced to join the army. Russian soldiers are seen happening upon the frozen body of Von Trapp somewhere on the Eastern Front, finally, we see Maria’s body being thrown into a mass grave and covered with lime in a forced labour camp. The final scene is set to a sombre adagio arrangement based on the main “Sound of Music” theme.