CLASIC REEL : The Trapp Family

Cast: Ruth Leuwerik, Hans Holt, Agnes Windeck, Michael Ande, Knut Mahlke, Ursula Wolff, Angelika Werth, Monika Wolf, Ursula Ettrich and Monika Ettrich

Year of Release: 1956

Directed by: Wolfgang Liebeneiner

Plot: A nun is sent to the house of a widowed Baron and his seven children; becoming a huge part of their lives as she grows to love them and their father, the family later becoming the famous  Trapp Family Singers.

 The incredible story of Baroness Maria Augusta Von Trapp,  the family who welcomed her into their hearts and their evolution to the well-known singing group was first told in her 1949 memoir; The Story of The Trapp Family Singers.  When one speaks of Maria, thoughts immediately go to British actress Julie Andrews who played the singing nun and later on the matriarch of the Von Trapp family in the classic 1965  film  The Sound of Music, co-starring  Christopher Plummer.

Before then, The Sound of Music was a 1959 Broadway musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein, starring American singer/ actress Mary Martin as Maria and Austrian American actor/singer/composer Theodore Bikel as Captain  Georg Von Trapp, with the names of the children changed, new characters and the well known musical numbers added.

The Trapp Family is actually the first-ever adaptation of Baroness Von Trapp's memoir, made and released in Germany under the title Die Trapp Familie in 1956.  Hollywood producers were only interested in acquiring the rights to the title of the book and not the story itself, hence Maria sold the story's rights to German producers instead. 

While The Sound of Music's Broadway and movie versions are unarguably masterpieces, they are only  loosely based on the actual story of the Von Trapp family;  unlike Die Trapp Familie which-though a family comedy- was a tad closer to the book it was based on, even though a few creative liberties were added in and except for the scenes were Maria sang and played the guitar for the children, first time viewers should not expect the spontaneous burst into song or dance numbers here. However, it is a sentimental movie, full of heart and a joy to watch and a few quotes heard in the film version was also spoken here.

Maria here was played by  Ruth Leuwerick and one would immediately fall in love with her and her performance. She portrayed Maria in a sweet, fun-loving and full of endearing mischief. Unlike Julie Andrews' bold take, she speaks her mind but is immediately appalled by her words even though she meant well.  Her scenes with the children were funny and heartwarming and her voice as she sang and played her guitar to them during the thunderstorm was golden. She served as the narrator, via voiceovers.

While a nun, she was more unconventional than rebellious; whistling tunes and sliding down a bannister but of course being in a convert that was a no-no! Under the eye of the disapproving nuns and the Mother Superior, she tried explaining it was because she was late for class- her goofiness only making us love her more.

Co-star Hans Holt played Captain Baron Von Trapp. While Christopher Plummer's Von Trapp was a stern father emotionally closed towards his children, Holt's Von Trapp was simply a rather misguided father who ran his house like a battleship, treating the kids like cadets instead of letting them be themselves. Yes... he also used that very offensive whistle.

His courtship of Maria was very sweet, Maria's rival Princess Yvonne (played by  Maria Holst) unintentionally made it easy for him to express his feelings to Maria. As in the book, Maria hurried back to Nonnberg Abbey- the same actual abbey Maria came from and  also featured in The Sound of Music- to ask for Mother Superior's advice (which is what happened in real life) and returning to a very happy Baron Von Trapp's arms... to the delight of the equally happy children.

As for the wedding, while there was no sound of How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? reprise, it was very beautiful.  The viewers treated to the full ceremony, Maria and Georg exchanging rings and loving looks, the children gathered around them in a circle. There was also a good look at  Maria's new life as a wife, stepmother and mother and the introduction of Father Franz Wasner (an actual person in Maria's story), who became the singing group's conductor and later director of their concerts when they became professional. The rest of the film reenacted the events that led to them becoming performers and leaving Austria for Italy before eventually moving on to America.

The Von Trapps' story was continued in a sequel released in 1958; Die Trapp Familie in Amerika/ The Trapp Family In America. For it to be released in the States, both the sequel and the previous movie were dubbed in English. Thanks to Mary Martin who saw this movie and brought it to the attention of her friends, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III;  The Sound of Music was then born, the stage musical, then the eventual film.

This half-forgotten adaptation would probably make long-time fans of The Sound of Music look at it a little differently now. The Trapp Family and The Sound of Music is like 1938's Pygmalion is to  1964's My Fair Lady. 

 Which version told Maria's story best actually doesn't matter, they are both gems.

Trivia:  During a concert tour in Philadelphia, Maria gave birth to her son and the youngest Von Trapp child, Johannes Von Trapp. The Von Trapp Family eventually settled in Vermont, their home today known as the Trapp Family Lodge.


Popular Posts