Julie Andrews’ birthday is Sunday, Oct. 1, and in honor of her, let’s spend a little time talking her role as Maria in 1965’s “The Sound of Music.” It may be her most famous part — along with “Mary Poppins” — and it’s definitely her most Catholic one.
Set in Austria in 1938, the film adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway show — itself based on a memoir, “The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers,” by Maria Von Trapp — stars Andrews as Maria, a young woman studying to be a nun in Salzburg, Austria. The Mother Abbess, suspecting the high-spirited Maria is a poor fit for the convent, sends her to be governess to the seven children of widowed retired naval officer Capt. Georg Von Trapp. After a rocky beginning, Maria wins over the children — and eventually wins Von Trapp’s heart. But the encroachment of the Nazis forces the Von Trapps to slip away, at great peril, and head over the mountains to Switzerland and freedom.
One of the film’s most iconic scenes came at the beginning. Andrews recalls:
“A giant helicopter came at me sideways with a very brave cameraman hanging out [its] side,” said the 81-year-old. “Every time he went around me, the downdraft from the jets would fling me down into the grass.”
In 2015, to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary, Lady Gaga — a Catholic — put aside her outrageous stage image and stunned the world with a tribute to Andrews and “The Hills Are Alive”:
Maria is obviously a devout Catholic, as exemplified in this prayer, as 16-going-on-17-year-old daughter Liesel (Charmain Carr) sneaks in late:
A few years ago, NBC did a live version of “The Sound of Music,” with Carrie Underwood, and much as the network might have been tempted to remove them, the nuns stayed in the picture.
“The Sound of Music” is example of a film that, while saturated in the Catholic faith and imagery, has an appeal to people across generations, decades and ethnicities. You don’t have to be Austrian or German or European or Catholic to appreciate a story of love and family in the face of oppression.
Observed a 2015 story in the National Catholic Register, written by a former Catholic schoolboy:
Seeing The Sound of Music with the sisters and my schoolmates was a life-changing experience. It is still my favorite movie, which I have watched dozens of times. When Mother Superior tells Maria that the monastery walls were not built to hide from the world, I get a sense of the courage and commitment involved in discerning a religious vocation. When Maria and Capt. von Trapp stand at night by the pond, the scene illustrates the chaste, delicate and awakening nature of love and the trust and sacrifice it requires. When the captain pulls down the Nazi flag from his home after returning from his honeymoon, I know in my bones there is evil in the world that attacks even the innocence of children — and that good men and women must stand against it, regardless of the cost.
Sadly, Andrews’ singing voice was irreparably damaged during a 1997 surgery for non-cancerous nodules in her throat. It was a loss, not only to Andrews, but the world.
Here she is at 12, singing opera:
Once asked about her favorite song from “The Sound of Music,” Andrews ironically named one she didn’t sing in the movie (but did often sing later in concert), a song that touches the heart of anyone who loves his or her homeland:
Early in the film, the nuns at the abbey despair, singing, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”
The song returns later, when she weds Capt. Von Trapp. A Catholic wedding has seldom been portrayed more beautifully in a movie.
Image: Courtesy 20th Century Fox
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