In the classic musical, a sprightly former nun brings musical joy and perfectly-choreographed balance to a large family. Eventually she even awakens romance in the brood’s patriarch. Together, they then make fools of Nazis.
The Sound of Music is a wonderful film. However, its caricature of Captain Georg Von Trapp conceals a true, and complex, hero.
A Valiant Life
Rodgers and Hammerstein chose not to complicate their musical with the details of Von Trapp’s service in the Austrian navy. On screen, his bosun’s whistle is used only to portray him as a eccentric martinet. His medals, briefly glimpsed in the wedding scene, seem like the glittery accessories one might expect on Prince Charming’s uniform.
They were not accessories. They were hard-won medals of valor from the life
of a valiant officer. The medals represented exploits from the storming of a Chinese fort to the sinking of a French cruiser.
Not that Von Trapp would have boasted of these exploits. He was a gentleman of the old school. That much, the film portrays correctly.
He was also a devout Roman Catholic, a man with an archaic sense of chivalry, and a loyal Imperial patriot. “The last knight,” he wrote reverently, “is our old Emperor.” He fought boldly and shrewdly for the old regime in World War One, using the newest of weapons, the submarine.
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