Kate Guadagnino at The Paris Review:
The Sound of Music hasn’t tarnished over time; it was always dated, always reviled by the learned. Rumor has it that Pauline Kael was fired from McCall’s for her withering review of it (“the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat”) and that Joan Didion was fired from Vogue for hers, which described it as “more embarrassing than most, if only because of its suggestion that history need not happen to people … Just whistle a happy tune, and leave the Anschluss behind.”
She’s right that the film hints at the limits of art’s power in the face of real danger. “Believe me,” Billy Wilder said at an industry party when he heard of Fox’s production plans, “no musical with swastikas in it will ever be a success!” Of course he was wrong—this was three years before The Producers—though the film might have contained more swastikas than it does. Before Robert Wise could be convinced to sign on, William Wyler was meant to direct. He’d lost relatives in concentration camps and was angling to add a military scene showing tanks decimating Salzburg. Instead, the film treats Nazism as little more than a vague threat to the Austrian aristocracy. At the same time, it capitalizes on a villain everyone can get behind, rendering the Third Reich a least favorite thing. Who among us doesn’t love siblings, lakeside villas, and grandma-chic floral prints—and who wouldn’t root for a Nazi-sympathizing boyfriend to get dumped?