While watching The Sound of Music at the Redford Theatre on November 18 and 19, 2016, I felt like I was experiencing the end of an era.
I had put together a historical display for the Redford that traced the Sound of Music story from its roots in Austria in the late 1930s to its phenomenal success as a movie after its release in 1965.
The Sound of Music opened in Detroit at the downtown Madison Theatre in March 1965. It played at that theater for an amazing 98 weeks until January 1967, followed by successful runs at several suburban theaters through much of 1967.
When The Sound of Music opened in Detroit on March 17, 1965, the downtown movie district that was centered in Grand Circus Park was still a thriving location for big movie releases.
In March 1965, those movies included My Fair Lady at the United Artists; Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte at the Palms; Lawrence of Arabia at the Michigan; and The Greatest Story Ever Told at the Music Hall.
But socioeconomic changes were at work. When The Sound of Music was re-released on March 16, 1973, at the Americana I in Southfield, the downtown movie district was no longer the place for big movie releases that attracted people from the whole Detroit metropolitan area.
In early 1973, many downtown theaters were showing movies that appealed to the growing black population of Detroit, including “blaxploitation” films that now have a cult following among many movie buffs of all races. Also, several downtown theaters had switched over to hard core pornographic movies.
The content of The Sound of Music also signaled the end of an era. In late 1966, The Sound of Music passed Gone with the Wind as the most popular movie of all time, and its appeal has been thoroughly analyzed by critics and historians through the years.
After watching The Sound of Music three times in two days, I concluded that it was a well-made movie in the style of the 1930s or 1940s that used all the technical advances of the 1960s, including widescreen, rich color processing, and stereophonic sound.
Some people have criticized the lighter and more carefree moments of the movie, but those scenes are well-balanced by significant discussions about religious and political convictions. I liked the comment by Detroit News Amusement Editor John Finlayson in his March 18, 1965 review of The Sound of Music:
Escape entertainment? Yes, all the way—and who cares? There’s a therapy here that only the so-called sophisticates would scorn.
I found myself greatly admiring an underrated strength of the film—Eleanor Parker’s outstanding performance in a difficult, unsympathetic role as the baroness who must give Christopher Plummer up to Julie Andrews. She spoke one of the pivotal lines in the movie: “Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.”
The Sound of Music burst with life from the screen of the Redford Theatre, in a beautiful digital copy that took full advantage of the recently installed digital projection equipment at the Redford. It was also a great movie for the weekend before Thanksgiving, with its emphasis on family values and togetherness.
As I sat at my table of historical information, the rewards of the weekend included the many happy faces and voices of people who had just enjoyed what movie advertisements in 1965 described as “The Happiest Sound In All The World!”
Copyright © 2016 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.