Oscar: Best Picture–Sound of Music (1965)

Robert Wise’s extremely popular film is the ultimate big-budget super-musical, grossing more money than any American film before “The Godfather,” “Jaws,” and “Star Wars.”  Known in the industry as “the sound of money,” the movie became an object of emulation for every studio in town.

 

Winning five of its ten nominations, it is, along with “Titanic” and “Gone With the Wind,” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” one of the most commercially successful Oscar winners, grossing close to $80 million in domestic rentals alone.

Based on Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse’s long-running Broadway hit, with music by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, vaguely inspired by the true story of the Trapp family singers and their heroic escape from Nazi-occupied Austria, it represents Hollywood filmmaking at its most calculating, combination elements of The Belles of St. Mary’s and The Wizard of Oz.

Set in Austria in 1938, the narrative of “The Sound of Music” consists of stilted devices, each aiming to appeal to a different demographic segment of the public. Advertised as entertainment for the whole family and a genuine celebration of life, it is high corn–American Kitsch.

The motherless Von Trapp family of seven children, headed by Christopher Plummer, becomes a troupe of singers under the benevolence of Maria, the nun-turned-governess (Julie Andrews), thus eluding the Nazis and successfully escaping first to Switzerland and then to America. Rather shrewdly, The Sound of Music includes two generational romances: Plummer and his haughty baroness (played by Eleanor Parker), whom he later deserts for the simpler and maternal Andrews; and a youthful romance. Ideologically, the musical cherishes family strength and religious benevolence, placed in a fake political setting and phony anti-Nazi feelings.

The film was shot in the stunning landscapes of the Austrian Alps and Salzburg. Ingeniously packaged and sold to the public, The Sound of Music was released in March, while Julie Andrews was still the talk due to the triumph in “Mary Poppins,” and when it became clear that she would get the Best Actress in the upcoming ceremonies (in April).  Andrews’s Oscar made “The Sound of Music” even more popular at the box office, a position she held for several years.

The 1965 competition for Best Picture was rather weak. Stanley Kramer’s flawed and pretentious “Ship of Fools” and the screen adaptation of the Broadway comedy “A Thousand Clowns” stood no chance of winning. The other two contenders were made by British directors, David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago,” a romantic spectacle, and John Schlesinger’s “Darling!” clearly the most innovative of the nominees, earlier singled out by the New York Film Critics.

For most Academy members, the choice was between “The Sound of Music” and “Doctor Zhivago,” each of which received ten nominations.  At the end of the day, the awards were also equally divided, with each movie getting five, though, except for Screenplay (Robert Bolt), “Doctor Zhivago” received mostly technical awards, such as Color Cinematography (Freddie Young), Color Art Direction-Set Decoration (John Box and Terry Marsh), and Color Costume Design (Phyllis Dalton).