• The Sound of Music was the second biggest box office film ever (Gone with the Wind -adjusted for inflation) at the time of its release (it is still #3) and hailed by some as one of the best films of all-time. Others decry it outright and point to some of the “you wait for the sun to come out” schlock as evidence of its worthlessness. The truth, at least artistically, lies somewhere in-between.
  • Robert Wise was riding a career high coming into The Sound of Music. He made West Side Story in 1961 and The Haunting in 1963. This shares much in common with those two (admittedly superior) films- large canvas, wide screen (this one is actually larger- 65mm, 2.20 : 1 aspect ratio Eastman).

The helicopter tracking shot in on Julie Andrews twirling is sonic boom of an opening- breathtaking.

The opening aerial Swiss Alps mountaintop (on location) shots are inspired- this echoes Wise’s opening for West Wide Story. 

  • Ernst Lehman adapts the film for Wise (also worked on West Side Story) and of course the music and lyrics are from Rodgers Hammerstein.

The ornate Castle of the von Trapps makes for a prime cinematic setting like the gothic house in The Haunting. 

There are some splendid overhead shots of the gardens as well.

Wise is not content to just rest on the beautiful exteriors either- in the church scene near the opening of the film he fills the mise-en-scene with symmetrical frames- rows of pews pushing the eye to the alter. The staging of the six nuns singing “Maria” makes for a standout composition.

  • This is still only Julie Andrews’ third film. She is 30 years old in 1965, with only this, The Americanization of Emily, and of course Marry Poppins (1964) on her resume- and she is as big a star as any actor in the world after the film’s release.
  • Perhaps the highlight of the film though is the Gazebo sequence. Wise is smart enough to use this set piece twice. Once for “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” with Charmian Carr as Liesl von Trapp and Daniel Truhitte as Rolfe, and once later with Andrews and Christopher Plummer. It is in the second instance that Wise gets one of the strongest shots of his entire career with the silhouettes on the glass.

the second of the two gazebo scenes

Wise will often stage some casual action (like children playing) on the hillside with the mountain as a glorious backdrop- this foreground/background dedication is Victor Sjöström (The Outlaw and His Wife, A Man There Was)- Terrence Malick would use the mountains in a similar way in 2019’s A Hidden Life.

  • Like West Side Story (and many musicals, epics and films with a longer run time) this has an intermission. Unlike West Side Story, there are longer stretches here that are cinematically quiet. It does seem to lack Jerome Robbins’ influence on the actual musical numbers (some of the musical numbers in The Sound of Music are the flattest cinematically- and these actors, unlike West Side Story, are not dancers).

During the marriage scene the are some fantastic overhead shots – having that kind of mobility with a 65mm camera is not easy. The camera tracks along with Andrews’ Maria down the aisle.

  • Like the gazebo setting, Wise goes back to one of the greatest scenes in the film- the helicopter shot on the mountain- to end the film
  • Highly Recommend- top 10 of the year quality