The Hills Are Still Alive
By Amanda Leiva
With unforgettable music by the immortal Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II and a memorable romance between a lively would-be nun and a stuffy sea captain, The Sound of Music is a perennial favorite for adults and children alike. Based on the true story of Maria Augusta Trapp, the film is set in Salzburg, Austria in, as the film states, "the last golden days of the thirties."
The Sound of Music begins with brief glimpses of the beauty of Austria; the film is as much a story about the history and beauty of Austria as it is a story of the von Trapp family. The audience is first introduced to their heroine when a radiant Julie Andrews sings the title song surrounded by mountains and gazes at the beauty of nature around her. Soon, church bells sound in the distance, and Maria, realizing she is late, hurries back to the abbey. At the abbey, exasperated nuns discuss Maria's willfulness; the Mother Abbess suggests to Maria that she leave the abbey for a time to see if she can truly live the life of a nun. She tells Maria of Captain Georg Von Trapp who needs a governess for his children; Maria reluctantly accepts the position.
Upon meeting the stodgy captain and his mischievous children, Maria shows her strength of character by not immediately running back to the abbey despite the children's best efforts to intimidate her. Slowly, the children and Maria develop a bond when she reaches out to them through music. When the captain returns from a trip to Vienna with a prospective bride, he disapproves of Maria's handling of the children, but when he hears his children's beautiful voices, he remembers his own love for singing that he suppressed after the death of his wife. At this point, the relationship between Captain von Trapp and Maria undergoes a dramatic change, and both begin to feel the beginnings of love. Despite interference from the Captain's fiancée and Maria's temporary return to the abbey, Captain von Trapp and Maria realize their true feelings for each other and marry.
After the wedding, the story begins to shift away from the personal lives of the von Trapp family; the political situation of Austria, which the story hints at a few times during earlier scenes, becomes a focal point. Captain von Trapp is strongly opposed to the Anschluss, and when the Germans finally make Austria a part of Greater Germany and the Nazi regime takes control, the captain must choose either to be drafted into service under Hitler or to flee his homeland. Realizing his beloved Austria will never be the same under Nazi rule, the captain decides to flee with his family to Switzerland. During a performance at the Salzburg Folk Festival, the family gives a poignant musical tribute to their motherland, and afterwards, they manage to elude the watchful eyes of Herr Zeller and his men. With the aid of a few roguish nuns, the von Trapp family triumphantly make their way across the Alps on foot.
The captain's fears that Austria would lose its identity after the Anschluss were well founded. The movie portrays Austrians as chiefly against any annexation by Germany, but in reality, "a majority of Austrians desired the Anschluss" (Suval 169). In the years preceding the Anschluss, the country struggled to gain its footing in the international community, and many felt that Germany could help the foundling nation. However, instead of being benefited, the country lost itself in the more powerful Germany, and "Austria became a mere province of the Third Reich" (Keyserlingk 16). When the captain receives a telegram ordering him to report to Bremerhaven, he ignores it, but many other Austrians found themselves drafted into Hitler's service. As a part of Germany, "Austrians became German citizens and fought in Hitler's armies" (Keyserlingk 28).
The plot of The Sound of Music comes from the memoirs of Maria herself; however, in order to make a compelling film that viewers would enjoy, director Robert Wise and writer Ernest Lehman took liberties with the actual story. Some of the changes made were inconsequential such as the names, genders and ages of the children, but plot changes were made that substantially differed from Maria's story. For instance, the film takes place throughout the 1930s and ends in 1938 when the Germans enter Austria; however, in actuality, Maria and Captain von Trapp married long before the movie's setting. According to Maria, the date of their wedding "was...November 26, 1927" (Trapp 61). The most drastic change involves the ending in which the family flees Austria; the movie correctly presents the reasons why the family left, but according to Wikipedia, they fled "to Italy, not Switzerland, via train not foot" ("The Sound of Music").
Although the filmmakers changed some details of the story, they do stay true to the characterization of Captain von Trapp and the changes that took place in Austria. In the film, the captain is staunch supporter of his country and its independence. He opposes any interference by Germany, and on a few occasions, he argues with a person who insists the Anschluss is inevitable. In his opinion, Austria will lose its identity if it allows Germany to take control. The real Captain von Trapp was exceedingly loyal to Austria and, as depicted in the film, there was an Austrian flag hanging in his home that Maria described as "the largest flag I had ever seen in my life" (Trapp 19). Captain von Trapp, like his real life counterpart, refuses to hang the Swastika flag. In the film, the captain rips a flag in half upon finding it covering the front of his house. The real captain did not rip the flag, but Maria recalls an incident in which a man in a Gestapo uniform asked the captain why he did not display the flag to which the captain responded, " I do not like the color. It's too loud" (Trapp 116).
When the Nazis enter the country, the evidence of their arrival is prevalent everywhere. In her novel, Maria says that soon after the Anschluss, her children described the town as "a lake of red, huge flags with the Swastika practically covering the fronts of houses" (Trapp 114). Later in the book, Maria is shocked on her first outing after the Nazi occupation to find that "the town looked like a military camp, German soldiers on every street corner" (Trapp 114). The film touches on the changes that take place in Salzburg. In the earlier scenes, Maria and the children scamper through the town as they gleefully sing; the town is peaceful and beautiful. After the Anschluss, a brief shot of the town shows the changes; it is filled with Nazis and covered in a sea of red flags.
Throughout the film, the characters wear a mix of the fashion trends of the 1930s and traditional Austrian clothing. The eldest von Trapp daughter, Liesl, dresses in many dresses that show off the styles of the time. During the first dinner scene, she wears a lovely dress with "sleeves gathered, pleated and puffed" and a "neckline...in a...square shape" (Yarwood 261). The baroness, whom the captain initially plans to marry, is a wealthy woman, and her style highlights her affluence. In comparison to Maria and the children, the baroness' attire is extravagant and modern. When she is first introduced, she wears a stylish, feminine suit in which "the blouse...[is] worn outside the skirt and end[s] on the hips" (Yarwood 261). In contrast, the children and Maria wear clothing in keeping with the Austrian tradition. The women wear clothing like the "dirndl,...a closefitting bodice combined with an apron" ("Traditional Fashion"). When the family frolics through the countryside, the von Trapp boys wear "lederhosen, [which] [are] knee-length trousers or short-pants,...worn with rustic shoes and wool socks" ("Traditional Fashion").
The Sound of Music is timeless. Even years after its 1965 release, the film remains a staple on television where new fans discover the joy of the von Trapp family. Julie Andrews bring the requisite warmth and charm to Maria, and Christopher Plummer is the perfect Captain von Trapp; it is impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. He and Andrews convincingly play two people who find unexpected love, and when they share their first kiss, it is both passionate and tender. The supporting characters, from the children to the nuns, add humor and sensitivity to the story. Rodgers and Hammerstein's music is unforgettable; songs such as "The Sound of Music" and "My Favorite Things" deserve their status as enduring classics. The film is almost three hours long, but from start to finish, it keeps audiences spellbound. Based on the true account of Maria Augusta Trapp, The Sound of Music poignantly retells the story of a family of singers who fled their country to avoid Nazi rule. Despite some historical errors, the film manages to illustrate the effects of the Anschluss on the von Trapp family and the changes that occurred in Austria.
A 40th Anniversary DVD special edition of A Sound of Music with video and audio clips of related material was released in 2005.