Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #13

13. The Sound of Music (1965)

In 1948, after years of touring Europe and the United States, the Von Trapp Family singers experienced a new type of success. Their matriarch, Maria Rainier Von Trapp, had told enough stories about their life in pre-World War II Austria that the famous publisher Frank Lippencott wanted to help Maria with her autobiography. Her memoirs, The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers, was a great success that several film companies became interested in dramatizing the family's story. In 1956, Maria sold the rights to a German film company and Die Trapp Familie was released. It was one of Germany's most successful films and Broadway soon came calling. Stage and film director Vincent J. Donehue was fascinated by the property and saw it as a vehicle for his dear friend, Broadway legend Mary Martin. Martin (and her manager-husband Richard Halliday) felt impressed and thought it to be great material for a musical.

With the help of the great playwrights Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, Martin convinced her good friends (and Broadway's best composing team), Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, to help write (and co-produce) the new musical. The show, titled The Sound of Music, opened in November of 1959 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre to great audience acclaim. While critics were not warm to the lighthearted story, they did, however, praise the Rodgers and Hammerstein score which included some of their most famous and best work (like "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," "Edleweiss" and the charming title tune). It won several Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Actress in a Musical (for Mary Martin's legendary performance). Unfortunately, the great success was marred by sadness as Oscar Hammerstein II passed away in the fall of 1960 (from lung cancer). The Sound of Music (and the song "Edleweiss" which was the last song he wrote lyrics for) became a perfect tribute to the legend that produced some of America's greatest musicals.

20th Century Fox, which had produced all of Rodgers and Hammerstein's successful musicals on film, purchased the film rights to the play for an unprecedented sum. Directed by Robert Wise and adapted for film by Ernest Lehman (the two had previously collaborated on West Side Story and Executive Suite), the film is a grand vision filled with gorgeous music. The movie opens with the iconic twirl-on-the-mountaintop as Maria (played to perfection by the amazing Julie Andrews) sings the title song. Maria is a novice nun at the Abbey in Salzburg and she is not getting on well with the rules and restrictions the nuns live by. The Mother Superior (played by Peggy Wood) decides to send her to be governess to a widowed Captain's seven children. As Maria grows closer to the children, she begins to realize she has feelings for the Captain (dynamically played by Christopher Plummer). The Captain also realizes he cannot live without her and the two marry. As the family begins to celebrate the nuptials, the Nazis take over Austria. The Captain, who is adamantly opposed to Nazi rule, decides he must take his family and leave Austria. It is a stirring and powerful story that is beautifully accompanied by the great Rodgers and Hammerstein score. The film was a phenomenal success and is the highest ranking movie-musical on the list of All-Time Box Office champs. Thanks to an airing on television every year, the film has been seen by practically everyone. It is considered the crown jewel in Hollywood musicals and very much deservedly so.

Next Post: #12

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