The Enduring Appeal of The Sound of Music

Why the movie resonates, 45 years after its release—and how a newly remastered version makes it look even better

Today is an important day for those who believe in standing up for their beliefs and being true to themselves.

I'm talking, of course, about the release of the 45th anniversary edition of The Sound of Music. Also, it's Election Day. In the midst of midterm madness, this special edition DVD/Blu-Ray is a breath of fresh Alpine air from a world beyond attack ads, corporate contributions, and tawdry accounts of one-night stands.

Even if you're undecided at the ballot box, it shouldn't be difficult to make up your mind about the greatest movie musical ever made. In this movie, the choice between right and wrong is clear. The antagonists are Nazis, after all. And the protagonists … well, it doesn't get much better than Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, a.k.a. Maria and the Captain, a couple equally matched in terms of intelligence, passion, and conviction.

Maria manages to win over the seven rambunctious von Trapp children and bring music back into their beautiful schloss, while the Captain proves himself worthy of Maria's love by both rejecting the cold elegance of Baroness Schraeder and boldly defying the Nazis. Yes, Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp) has insulted both the movie (calling it "S&M" and "The Sound of Mucus") and his role in it on multiple occasions, saying—among other things—"I was a bit bored with the character …  it was a bit like flogging a dead horse."

But even he finally had to concede last week on Oprah's hour-long cast reunion extravaganza that it was, in fact, an excellent movie. Better late than never.

For those of us who didn't need four-and-a-half decades to reconcile ourselves to the film's fabulousness, this latest anniversary special is another welcome reminder of how important the movie is to millions of people. I have watched The Sound of Music countless times over the years, and I never fail to swoon at least a little when Captain von Trapp tears down the Nazi flag that he finds hanging from his home. It's a small moment, but an iconic one (for me, at least): a display of conviction so pure and so strong. Of course he has to tear down the flag, rip it in two, and unceremoniously dispose of it, as if it were something filthy.

But The Sound of Music is hardly some didactic tale. It is, after all, a joyous Rodgers and Hammerstein creation from the golden age of the movie musical. They really don't make them like this anymore.

What they can do, however, is make them look better—the new edition has been painstakingly restored and remastered, as eager attendees at the special Sing-A-Long Sound of Music showings learned from the earnest documentary that played before the participatory spectacle (it was screened only twice—on October 19 and 26, at various locations around the country).

I doubt I would have spotted, say, the enhanced spray of water that results from Maria's playful hand splashing in a Salzburg fountain during "I Have Confidence," had it not been dutifully pointed out during this special feature. But I certainly noticed how much crisper, more colorful, and all-around beautiful the film looked. (And the random and joyous moments of soft-focus were still there, as one delighted audience member loudly pointed out.)

Having watched the movie for years on the small screen, it was particularly special to experience it with a theater full of fans, ranging from a troupe of women dressed as nuns to a group of small children prematurely decked out for Halloween. It wasn't quite The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but the audience was exuberant, and witty but loving commentary flowed freely, as did out-of-tune but enthusiastic singing along. Three hours in a movie theater—or anywhere—is a lot to ask of people. It's a testament to the lasting impact of The Sound of Music that I—and most everyone else—left the theater grinning.

Like all great movies, The Sound of Music has a certain intangible magic that makes it special—you can credit the great direction, the chemistry between Plummer and Andrews, the beautiful settings, the incredible music. It's all of these things, of course, but the movie is ultimately so successful because of the amount of love that's present in it: the love of music, of freedom, of family, and, of course, the love between a man and a woman (which—as the Reverend Mother wisely reminds us—is holy, too).

And that, thankfully, is something that lasts a lot longer than an election cycle.