The fifth in a series reviewing the American Film Institute Top 100 in random order.
“There’s nothing more irresistible to a man than a woman who’s in love with him.” – Eleanor Parker as Baroness Elsa Schrader
I’ve never quite understood the appeal of musicals. I think it stems from a desire to have a movie appear to be as realistic as possible, especially with regard to the interplay between the characters. Sure, Star Wars may be a work of science fiction where even the most basic laws of physics are ignored (I mean really, lightsabers? How do they work?), but at its heart, it’s the story of a boy who’s dissatisfied living in a small town and wants out. It’s easy enough to conjure up a memory of that time of my life when I wanted the same. It’s even easy to imagine wanting out so badly you’d follow some old codger you met in the desert on a damned fool’s mission. What is not easy to imagine, no matter how hard you try, is a person breaking into song in the middle of a conversation. Any conversation.
The sad part is, the story being told in here is a pretty interesting one, loosely based on an actual family. Capt. Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), a former officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy and a widower, hires a young governess, Maria (Julie Andrews), to care for his seven children. He’s a bitter old man who treats his kids like a group of conscripts. She’s a free spirit who can’t quite manage to fit in at the nunnery. They meet, quarrel over ultimately insignificant things, glare at each other, fall in love, she runs away and comes back, they get married, and are pursued by Nazis intent on having him serve in the burgeoning Third Reich. There’s lots of political tension, especially in the third act, the love story takes its time developing the way a real one would, and Herr Von Trapp is damned sexy, in a vaguely menacing kind of way.
And then they sing.
At all times, whether happy or sad, to each other during intimate moments and to large groups of strangers. Some of the singing is organic, like when Maria sings to the children at bedtime, or the family’s performance during Salzburg’s music festival. But by the time Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte) started singing to Leisl (Charmian Carr) about working up the courage to kiss her for the first time, I had checked out. And don’t get me started about the nuns. You know, the ones who make it a point to mention that singing is forbidden inside the nunnery? Yeah, they sing too. In the nunnery.
To its credit, this movie is beautiful to look at. It was filmed mostly on location in and around Salzburg and the architecture is gorgeous. The 45th Anniversary Blu-Ray is stunning to look at, though it does make it much easier to pick out which shots of the Alps were filmed there and which were done on a soundstage. If you can get past the musical numbers, and there are many to get through, it’s easy to see how this ended up in AFI’s Top 100. I just couldn’t, though. Every time I’d start getting invested in someone, the music would start, and I’d be jerked out of the narrative yet again.
In all, I’m glad I watched it, all two hours and fifty-four minutes of it, but I’m not in any rush to do so again any time soon. Not when Moneyball is playing on Encore thrice daily.
Up next in the queue, 1939′s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which our hero gets all fillibustery.
Click here for an Index of my AFI Top 100 movie reviews.