So much of The Sound of Music is exquisite, the film’s got enough momentum to get over the rough spots. The film has three and a half distinct sections. There’s the first, introducing Julie Andrews to the audience, then introducing Christopher Plummer and family to the Andrews and the audience, which then becomes about Andrews and the kids. The second part has Plummer returning after an absence, with Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn along with him to give him something to do. Then there’s the strange part following the intermission, which probably played better theatrically when one really did get up and leave the film for a period. When it returns–and Plummer and Andrews’s romance takes off (at the expense of almost everything else)–the film is different.
Then the final part, with the Nazis out to capture Plummer, is entirely different. Unfortunately, director Wise is most ambitious in the setup of the film. He knows if he gets all the establishing stuff right–with Andrews, with Plummer and the kids–everything else will work out. The final part of the film with the family on the run is strong, but it’s action. Wise is doing this action thriller. It works because his direction is good, Ted D. McCord’s photography is glorious throughout, ditto William Reynolds’s editing, and there are some amazing sets. And some good humor in Ernest Lehman’s screenplay to lighten things appropriately.
This dramatic conclusion overshadows how briskly the film has changed itself. Andrews and Plummer are wonderful arguing and flirting, but their romance itself is tepid. Both of them get better scenes regarding it with Parker than they do with one another. And Wise doesn’t take the time to progress that part of the narrative organically when it comes to the kids, who are actual characters in the first hour of the film only to become likable accessories in the last hour.
The Sound of Music has a lot of things Wise has to get right in the first hour and he gets them, lots of things he has to establish so he can lean upon them later. It’s fine, but it’s never as good later on, whether with returning characters or song encores. The handling of the songs in the first hour and a half are glorious. Once intermission hits, Wise is in a rush and the film suffers. There’s so many great stagings in the first part–down to using an adorable puppet show to get in another song–the remainder, with far fewer group songs and instead questionable duets, can’t measure up.
Still, Wise has got all the right pieces. Plummer and Andrews, even when they don’t have much to do, are great doing it. There’s also Ben Wright’s odious villain, who Wise and Lehman had been foreshadowing (but not enough). The Sound of Music gets through the choppy waters to succeed. It just could’ve been better.