As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times.
Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Manhattan.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.
We spoke at length about 1965’s Best Picture winner, The Sound of Music, starting in Part I, here. This time around we dive into musical theatre and Christopher Plummer’s disdain for his role.
Sam Sklar: Musicals live on in cartoon a lot – in the ’80s and ’90s – it shifted away from being for families to being for children. The genres broke apart and they became a little more post-modern. A lot more dialogue around what is for kids for adults and not for families. Everyone’s time is a little more compartmentalized, ideas need to be put into compartments instead of just having an experience. It is interesting to look back and see this. This shift away from musicals and then back into musicals with this new skin on it.
I’m not drawn to musical theatre either. When I was a kid I would think: ‘Why are they singing?’ until I realized, you know, “that’s the genre,” and that’s what it is. I didn’t understand. I get opera because they’re singing all of the time, and I get drama because they’re singing none of the time.
Zach Schonfeld: So, why are they singing some of the time?
S: Ha, right! Why are they randomly breaking into song? And then I got older and understood that’s the point, the form of entertainment.
S: I’m just not drawn to it naturally. I appreciate it though. I think it takes a lot of talent to sing and dance and act. It’s just adding more to the entertainment value.
Speaking of which: Christopher Plummer did not do his own singing in this.
Z: No, he did not. Someone else did.
S: You don’t — didn’t — really notice that. So the question is: why was he cast in this role?
Z: I don’t know. I feel like there’s probably a story but i don’t know what it is.
S: might be worth looking into when I write this up and put a little aside in there.
[Aside: In 2012, Plummer sat for an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, where he discussed how the film’s producers overdubbed his part with singing from maestro Bill Lee. The team of Lee & Plummer, in effect, tag-teamed the role, with Lee sounding astoundingly like Plummer as Captain von Trapp.]
Z: It’s interesting because this role made him a real star and was the most famous role of his career. And he’s made it clear that he resents how much this role has followed him around. He doesn’t really want to be known as Captain von Trapp. When I interviewed him [for Newsweek in June 2018] he said something like, “Oh as soon as I played that role, all the roles that were offered to me were uptight sons-of-bitches like Captain von Trapp. I didn’t want to be a leading man; I couldn’t wait to be a character actor.”
He thought it was a dull character. He wanted to play more interesting characters and he complained a lot on set that the film was “too sentimental, too gooey,” and he’s credited himself as pushing Director Robert Wise to make it less sentimental, to cut down on the sentimentality, which I think is a noble pursuit and made the film better.
But i think over the years he’s referred to it as The Sound of “Mucus” and has expressed a lot of irritation as being known for that movie out of all his roles.