The Untold Story of the Sound of Music (TV Movie 2015) Poster

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Excellent history and look at a great film
SimonJack2 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Most documentaries about the making of movies are little more than behind the scenes looks at the story, the cast, the shooting and other aspects of the film. Some rise above that and give the background and locale, especially where there is some history to the story. A third type is the "anniversary" observance of a film of the past – usually one that was a big hit in its time, and that will appeal to audiences in the present and the future.

Then there is an occasional gem of a documentary that has something of all three types. Such is this ABC TV special by Diane Sawyer. "The Untold Story of the Making of The Sound of Music" is an interesting and entertaining look back and look at history. Made for the 50th anniversary of the film (1965), the special aired on March 18, 2015. The film's star, Julie Andrews accompanied Sawyer to most of the locations used in the shooting, and then some.

The special has the usual film clips with interesting details provided by Andrews and Sawyer. With them, we pay a visit to the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg where Maria had been before going to help the Von Trapp family. We go to the cathedral where Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married. In real life, they were married 11 years before they fled the Nazis, where the film has their marriage just before that in 1938. We are taken to the house, the gazebo, the pavilion and other places in and near Salzburg that were part of the Von Trapp story and the movie.

And, for a climax, the film crew took us to the hill of the famous scene with Julie Andrews singing in the broad rolling meadows below the towering Alps. Salzburg is located just inside the Austrian border with Germany, and the scenic hill is located just over six miles West of Salzburg, in Germany. It's off the beaten path, and ABC had to get permission and pay the farmers to be able to return to the private land for shooting this TV special. Andrews said the 1965 movie crew traveled up the hill in carts drawn by oxen, and the special showed some still photos of that.

One other surprise of the documentary was a visit to the real Von Trapp home. "The Sound of Music" was filmed at another location, and Andrews had never visited the actual Von Trapp villa. She did for this special. The Villa is situated on a seven-acre plot that today is a park. It now is a small hotel. The documentary notes that the real escape of the Von Trapp family from Austria was not as treacherous as shown in the movie. In the film, the family flees to the hills by car and then walks over the mountains into Switzerland. In reality, the family walked across their grounds to a nearby train platform where they boarded a train that took them to Italy. From there, they went to England and then the United States.

The documentary had snippets of interviews with Christopher Plummer who played Baron Von Trapp. It also had scenes from home movies made by parents of the children. It show clips of some of the well-known actors who tried out for parts. Among them were Mia Farrow, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfus, and two of the Osmond brothers. But director Robert Wise decided to go with the lesser-known cast of children. He also chose Plummer for the part of the baron over big names such as Sean Connery or Richard Burton. Before casting Andrews, the producers had considered Doris Day for the part of Maria. And Grace Kelly apparently wanted the part.

This documentary seems to me to have one glaring shortcoming. While the music is front and center, there is so little attention to its creators, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. "The Sound of Music" was their final musical. Richard Rodgers lived to see it's success on Broadway, but not in the film. He died in August 1960. Their Broadway play ran for 3½ years and won five Tony awards, including best musical. The movie grossed more than 35 times its budget worldwide in 1965. It won five Academy Awards of 10 nominations, including best picture. Many of its songs are still sung today, and likely will be for decades to come. So, ABC might have given a little more attention to the creators of this great musical.

There's much more interesting information about the making of the movie and the location in this documentary. Host Sawyer noted that 6.5 million tourists visit Salzburg each year; most of them interested in touring the sites of "The Sound of Music." We see shots of people from around the world visiting Salzburg or singing tunes from the musical. It may seem a little ironic, considering that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and raised in Salzburg. No doubt, many of the tourists also visit the museum birthplace of Mozart, and probably attend at least one Mozart concert while in Salzburg. It seems fitting that the home of the one of the greatest (if not the greatest) composers of all time should be the setting for a true-based story made into a musical with music and songs by the greatest musical theater team in history. And, sung by arguably the best singing voice of the silver screen.
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