There’s a moment in Kevin Costner’s The Postman that I treasure. The rest of the film is mercifully forgettable, but when Costner, as a self-appointed mailman in a decaying world, is captured by a freebooter army of goons and lunkheads, and made to be the projectionist for their nightly movie show, he is almost stoned to death when he dares screen something other than their favourite: The Sound of Music.
Nearly half a century after its filming in the summer following JFK’s assassination, audiences dress up and sing along at special screenings, guided tours visit the locations of the film, the legend grows and the royalties come rolling in.
It’s a movie I’ve watched again and again, from the enchantment of first seeing it in one of those gorgeous old cinemas in Brisbane, all gold leaf and velvet, uniformed usherettes under a crystal chandelier. Years later, back in the days before DVDs or even video, Mum’s church filled the hall with a rented projector and a hired print. The congregation was enraptured, self included.
It’s just a great good story. Again, one of the classic plots: the poor country girl, after initial difficulties, marries the prince (or in this case the heroic sea captain) and lives happily ever after with a castle full of children.
The scenery is superb, the songs are catchy, the children are cute, the bad guys get outwitted and the loose ends are all tied up as the family hikes over the Alps to freedom.
I know full well that a lot of it is the purest tripe. Maria wed Captain von Trapp ten years before the Nazis invaded Austria, they had three children together, if you hiked over the mountains from Salzburg you’d end up in… Germany, and as the Captain was actually an Italian by birth, the whole family could simply have caught the train over the border.
Which is what they did.
Nevertheless, the story is based, however thinly, on facts, and it is such an excellent story that it overcomes all but the most flinty and skeptical of viewers. It is a film of the heart, not the head, and love shines all the way through it. Liesl (sixteen going on seventeen) falls for the Nazi telegraph boy, and while their romance sparkles initially, you just know it’s going to end in tears. Von Trapp, crusty old sea-captain, starts off on the wrong foot in a lukewarm relationship with a Baroness, but sees the light with young Maria and true love blooms, to the delight of all.
I’m a sucker for a love song, and The Sound of Music has two of the best. Sixteen Going On Seventeen sums up the breathless, rushing whirl of teenage emotions. Rolf and Liesl lay the foundations of the perfect life and love, and when Liesl sneaks back into the house, Maria interrupts her prayers to help and support her, outfoxing the suspicious Captain.
But it is Maria and the Captain who have the best scene and song. In the moonlit gazebo where Rolf and Liesl danced, they declare their love for each other, each hardly daring to believe that the other is …standing there, loving me, whether or not you should. This must be some reward, they must have done something good.
My heart just melts.
A payback for some earlier good deed? Maria has to undergo some serious soul-searching before she accepts her feelings. We see her as a happy-go-lucky postulate nun, planning her life of devotion and duty, despite the misgivings of her seniors. But life gets in the way of the dream when she is sent out on a temporary assignment as governess:
Maria walks out of the Abbey wearing a drab gray dress, baggy burlap jacket, and a wide-brimmed leather hat. She carries a guitar case in one hand and a carpetbag in the other.
Maria stops and looks back with a sad, wistful frown, then continues toward the Abbey’s iron gates.
MARIA When the Lord closes a door… (sighs)… somewhere he opens a window.
(sings) What will this day be like? I wonder.
Maria steps through the gate and out into the sunlight.
And, as the Baroness says to a pensive Captain von Trapp, when she breaks off their engagement,
Now, if, um, if you’ll forgive me, I’ll go inside, pack my little bags, and return to Vienna where I belong. And somewhere out there is a young lady who I think … will never be a nun.
The rest is history. Maria never becomes a nun, but she and the family become a singing group, touring the world and eventually settling in Vermont, safe from the horrors of war, running singing camps, full of praise and happiness.
One detail I love especially. The family farmhouse built by all, with Maria mixing the cement, was named Cor Unum – One Heart.