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The Sound of Music

Year: 1965
Production Co: Robert Wise Productions
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Robert Wise
Producer: Robert Wise
Writer: George Hurdalek/Howard Lindsay/Russel Crouse/Ernest Lehman
Cast: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer

How can you possibly review one of the most beloved movies of all time, one that seems immune to criticism and whose reputation shines far beyond the movie itself, if only because of the simple 'the hills are alive' riff?

The first thing you're not prepared for when you watch The Sound of Music is how much of a proving ground it was for Julie Andrews' to inhabit the character of Mary Poppins so fully later on – the easy familiarity and repartee she enjoys with the von Trapp brood seems effortless.

As a young novice nun, Maria (Andrews) would rather cavort and sing in the beautiful hills above her small Austrian hometown than study or pray (which she's doing when we first met her, giving the film its iconic moment).

Faced with the complaints of her peers, the mother superior (Peggy Wood) suggests a sabbatical as the governess to the children of a local wealthy widower, Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). A military man, von Trapp runs his household like an army camp complete with whistles for attention, and to make Maria's task even harder the kids intend to deal with her like they have all their former minders – with pranks and abuse.

But Maria is having none of it from any of them, immediately butting heads with Captain von Trapp about the way they're treated and winning the kids over with singing, dancing and love, making their time with her a joy and bringing them all gradually to a new kind of life their father barely knows.

But there's a shadow looming over the horizon in the shape of fascism, and without really changing tone the movie quick seamlessly shifts gears. As soon a Captain von Trapp's heart starts to warm to Maria and her ways and the kids consider her family, local officials are sporting swastikas and starting to act like bullies, even the formerly bumbling local delivery boy oldest daughter Liesl has a budding romance with.

Being a musical rather than a war film there's no violence and only mild implied peril, but when the Captain is called up for mandatory service with the Nazi party he decides to take his family and flee Austria, using a music festival intended to introduce the children as a singing troupe as a cover to do so.

It's an old time big studio picture when singing, dancing, large sets and a gilded, epic sense of theatrical scale held sway in Hollywood, which makes it as much a historical document of the changing attitudes of audiences and the studio system as anything.

On top of everything else it's a huge feather in the cap of one of the most talented directors in the history of Hollywood in Robert Wise, who helmed everything from The Day the Earth Stood Still to The Hindenburg and Audrey Rose to Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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