Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Musical of Musicals!

I was eight when this film was made. Richard Rodger's and Oscar Hammerstein II's film is a 1965 musical directed by Robert Wise. This is the greatest musical ever made. This is also the third greatest film ever made after 'The Ten Commandments' and 'Ben Hur'. The film is based on the Broadway musical of the same name. Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay. The musical originated from 'The Story of the Trapp Family Singers' by Maria Von Trapp.
It was photographed in 70MM TODD-AO lens by Ted .D. McCord. When it released in Ramakrishna 70MM in Hyderabad in the March of 1967, it was an event that made an unforgettable impression on my mind - first time we were exposed to a big screen film with its mighty decor and chandeliers in the cinema with all those 'nataraja' statuettes adorning the sides of the theatre topped with such a magnificent opening film. I remember this film almost ran for over a year and was succeeded by yet another masterpiece called 'The Bible' by John Huston.
My father, Syed Ali Hussain Nakavi, was so impressed by this film that he saw it thrice during my summer holidays of 1967 and the third time we went to the cinema, he smuggled our 'Crown' spool recorder and recorded the entire film's dialogue and music on two spools. He had carried a spare spool knowing that the film exceeded 174 minutes. Looking back, I think my father was way ahead of his time in revolutionising the piracy techniques and those were the days before the advent of VHS tapes, CDs and DVDs. The only way a film was seen was on the cinema screens. There was no 'Doordarshan' television yet in Hyderabad in those days.
The movie was filmed on location in Salzburg (pronounced as Zaalsboorg). It picked up the Best Picture of 1965.
The Story: In 1930s Austria, a young woman named Maria is failing miserably in her attempts to become a nun. Maria is given the job of a governess to handle the seven mischievous children of a naval captain, Georg Von Trapp. The Captain's wife is dead. He is often away and runs the household as strictly as he does the ships he sails on with his dog whistle. The children are unhappy and resentful of the governesses that their father keeps hiring. They manage to run each of them off one by one. Maria is also met with the same hostility but her kindness and unusually outspoken nature soon draws them to her and brings some joy into their lives, including the Captain's. Eventually, though the Captain is engaged to a Baroness from Vienna (Wien), the Captain and Maria fall in love. The romance makes them to question the decisions they have made earlier. Their personal conflicts are then swept aside by the world events. Austria succumbs to the onslaught of the Nazi Germany under Hitler's regime and the Captain is forcibly drafted into the German navy and made to fight against his own country. The story culminates in how he and his family manage to escape after their music concert into the Austrian Alps making their way to Switzerland with the choral refrain of 'Climb Every Mountain.'
Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp has given the performance of her lifetime. In fact, after Anne Baxter's 'Nefretiri' in 'The Ten Commandments', this is the greatest female lead performance either in a drama or a musical in the history of cinema. I was so captivated with Julie Andrews at that impressionable age of ten that I could think of no one else but her while studying, eating, drinking and sleeping. She was a model of excellence for me and dreamed that I would marry her one day. Her acting and singing in the film is heavenly. The high Cs she achieves in Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti are exhilarating. She had done two other greats before doing this film. That was Mary Poppins and the Broadway version of 'Pygmalion' (My Fair Lady) with Rex Harrison. Somehow, she was not selected for the film version by Lerner and Loewe as the casting went in favour of Audrey Hepburn who also did a marvellous job.
In Salzburg, even today, there are 'Sound of Music' tours that have become a booming source of revenue for Austria.
Christopher Plummer is magnificent as Captain Georg Von Trapp. Eleanor Parker is the Baroness. Peggy Ashcroft is the Mother Abbess who looks like the twin sister of John Wayne. The music and lyrics are out of this world. This is sublime movie making. If this film is given as an offering to the Divine Architect of the Universe, He will me mighty pleased with this sacred offering. As the first frame comes on to the screen, you look at the grandeur of the magnificent Austrian Alps in their bold splendour and Julie Andrews enlarges on to the frame with a stupendous rendition of 'The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music'... until the glorious refrain of the final 'Climb Every Mountain' fades from the screen, you would have journeyed through the MUSICAL OF ALL MUSICALS.

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