The Quarantine Stream: 'The Sound of Music' is as Saccharine and Satisfying as Ever
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: The Sound of Music
Where You Can Stream It: Disney+
The Pitch: A trouble-making postulant (Julie Andrews) at an Austrian abbey becomes a governess in the home of a widowed naval captain (Christopher Plummer) with seven children, where she reintroduces music and love back into their lives.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: It may be strange to want to revisit the movie that Christopher Plummer notoriously hated in the aftermath of the acting legend’s passing, but The Sound of Music has long been for me akin to one of those comforting things that Julie Andrews sings about in one of the film’s most beloved songs. It’s trite, yes. It’s sentimental to a fault. But I dare you not to be charmed by Andrews’ buoyant performance, to not be awed by the film’s sweeping CinemaScope cinematography, and to not swoon at Plummer’s most dashing role.
I’ve always wondered why it was The Sound of Music — a Rodgers and Hammerstein movie from 1965 — that remained a still-universal staple of everyone’s childhoods, when for many people of the younger generations, seeing a movie made before the ’80s is unheard of. I grew up watching it, almost everyone I knew had at least seen it once, and it’s referenced and paid tribute to time and time again in recent pop culture, from pop song samples to awful NBC live musicals. And that universal familiarity extends to Plummer, who held a rich and varied career across seven decades and yet is still most fondly remembered (I’m speaking in broad strokes, don’t get angry at me) for a role that he called “awful and sentimental and gooey.”
In interviews, he called the role of Captain von Trapp, a strict widow who still forbids any music in his home due to the pain of his wife’s death, his “toughest” role, explaining that he “had to work terribly hard to try and infuse some minuscule bit of humor into it.”
I’ll admit, as a child watching this movie, Captain von Trapp probably held my interest the least — I just wanted to see Julie Andrews and the kids do puppet shows and sing about their favorite things. But revisiting The Sound of Music for the first time in years (which reminds me, they should bring intermissions back to movies), I was struck by how funny Plummer was in the role. Not as much a humorless cad as he was charismatic, magnetic, and even a little bit flirty. His efforts to “make him interesting” paid off and they make for a richer film than the sentimental hogwash that we remember The Sound of Music as. Okay, it’s still saccharine as hell, but The Sound of Music is juggling a lot under its feel-good movie about a singing nun who teaches children the music scale. The political tension and the rising threat of the Nazis are telegraphed early on in the film, while the utilitarian romance between Captain von Trapp and the wealthy Baroness Elsa Schraeder (a highly underrated Eleanor Parker) are much more fascinating to watch than I remembered. But of course, there’s the sizzling chemistry between Plummer and Andrews, whose performance I can only describe as magical.
The film does threaten to buckle under its own hubris of trying to be a feel-good romance and a political drama all at once, but watch Plummer and Andrews exchange heated glances with each other and try not to be enchanted. At the very least, get a kick out of Plummer ripping up a Nazi flag.
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