STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This year, the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" turns 40 years old. Did you know that when it first came out, at least one famous critic panned this movie? But still, every year, 18,000 people pack the Hollywood Bowl to sing along with Julie Andrews. Now you can sing at home, because tomorrow a 40th anniversary DVD is being released. Jeff Lunden reports.
JEFF LUNDEN reporting:
With nuns, Nazis and tots, "The Sound of Music" has always been something of a punching bag for critics, but audiences can't seem to get enough of it. By any standard, it's become the most successful movie musical of all time. And this may be one of the reasons why.
(Soundbite from "The Sound of Music" featuring the title song)
Ms. JULIE ANDREWS: (Singing) The hills are alive with the sound of music.
LUNDEN: The helicopter shot that starts "The Sound of Music" swooping over the Alps and finally focusing on a twirling Julie Andrews singing in a meadow is an iconic moment in film history, and Julie Andrews told NPR it literally knocked her off her feet.
Ms. JULIE ANDREWS ("The Sound of Music"): Every time the shot was completed, and believe me, we shot it over and over, the down draft from the jets of the helicopter would just level me in the field. And so, I would spit the dust and, you know, hay and everything else that was around. And I got terribly angry by the whole thing because, you know, I'd try to stand my ground and it was absolutely impossible.
(Soundbite from "The Sound of Music" featuring the title song)
Ms. ANDREWS: (Singing) ...from a church on a breeze.
LUNDEN: Stories like this abound in the two-disc DVD reissue of the film which captures reminiscences not only of Julie Andrews but of Christopher Plummer, who played Captain von Trapp, Charmian Carr, who played Liesl, the eldest daughter, as well as the other six actors who played the von Trapp children. Michael Kantor directed and produced all of the new material. He filmed Charmian Carr going to all the sites in Salzburg where "The Sound of Music" was filmed.
Mr. MICHAEL KANTOR (Director, Producer, "The Sound of Music"): To go on a tour--panorama bus tour and visit the gazebo with Liesl and watch the tourists sing I am "Sixteen, going On Seventeen" was unbelievable.
(Soundbite from "Sixteen, going on Seventeen")
Group: (Singing) We need someone younger and wiser telling us to do...
LUNDEN: When Charmian Carr filmed "The Sound of Music," she was not actually 16 going on 17.
Ms. CHARMIAN CARR: I was 21 going on 22.
LUNDEN: The location shooting in Salzburg was supposed to take six weeks, but because of rain, it lasted for three months. During that time, Charmian Carr stayed in a hotel with the other adults.
Ms. CARR: Christopher Plummer used to make us sit in the bar every evening at the Bristol Hotel and listen to him play piano and sing and drink, and that's where I did, in fact, have my first champagne and my first brandy and my first wine. He introduced me to a lot of really good drinks.
(Soundbite from "Sixteen, Going on Seventeen")
Ms. CARR: (Singing) ...bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies, what do I know of those?
LUNDEN: But a big part of the movie was the children, and the on-screen chemistry between Julie Andrews and the young actors wasn't fake.
Ms. ANDREWS: The first thing we shot was "My Favorite Things" and it was a great breaking of the ice, and from then on, we were a team all the way. And I'm sure the director, you know--getting the performances out of them--all the teachers who had to work with them between takes and make sure that they had their schooling and things, that must have been horrendous. But I was the kind of party that happened when all the hard work for them was over, you know.
(Soundbite from "The Sound of Music" featuring "My Favorite Things")
Ms. ANDREWS: Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. (Singing) Bright copper kettles and warm, woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things.
LUNDEN: Taking this well-known stage musical and translating it to film fell to two Hollywood veterans: screenwriter Ernest Lehman and director Robert Wise, who had collaborated on "West Side Story." Michael Kantor, who directed the DVD extras, says the two of them were pioneers in their extensive use of exterior locations in Salzburg.
Mr. KANTOR: "Do-Re-Mi," which Ernest Lehman, the writer, had envisioned as this travelogue, in Robert Wise's hands becomes a kind of early MTV video where people are singing and moving and dancing. And it's edited seamlessly.
(Soundbite from "The Sound of Music" featuring "Do-Re-Mi")
Ms. ANDREWS and Group: (Singing) ...anything.
Ms. ANDREWS: Do...
Group: (Singing) ...a deer, a female deer...
LUNDEN: Even though "The Sound of Music" has proven wildly popular with the pre and post-MTV generation, Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, says in 1965 expectations for the film weren't all that high.
Mr. TED CHAPIN (Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization): You know, some people thought it would probably be an OK movie and, you know, others thought maybe it would be too sentimental. But I think the phenomenon of "The Sound of Music" really happened after the movie began to catch on in ways that surprised pretty much everybody.
LUNDEN: Actress Charmian Carr has written two books about that phenomenon: "Forever Liesl," and "Letters to Liesl." She's got her own Web site and attends many of the sing-along "The Sound of Music" events across the country where fans wear costumes and chime in with the actors on screen. Carr says to this day, she's amazed at the film's staying power.
Ms. CARR: When we had our five-year reunion, I thought, well, this will be it. I never thought I'd be sitting here at the 40th year talking to NPR about "The Sound of Music." But it is quite remarkable how people love this film and how little ones love this film.
LUNDEN: Julie Andrews says it's hard to put her finger on just why "The Sound of Music" has endured, but she thinks it might be a confluence of many elements.
Ms. ANDREWS: There's a certain integrity. There's a certain joy and, certainly, there's beauty and beautiful music and a pretty good adventure story, and I think underneath it all, the fact that it was so well-crafted. Every single department did their best work. And so, it's really a part of film history now, and I'm--as I said, I am so fortunate that I was the lady that was asked to be in it.
(Soundbite from "Do-Re-Mi")
Group: (Singing) Do, do.
LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
INSKEEP: You can also hear "The Sound of Music" at our Web site. Clips from the DVD are available at npr.org.
This is NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.