Julie Christie (Darling)
The Nominees: Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music), Samantha Eggar (The Collector), Elizabeth Hartman (A Patch of Blue), Simone Signoret (Ship of Fools)
Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music)
My Nominees: Samantha Eggar (The Collector), Geraldine Fitzgerald (The Pawnbroker)
Julie Andrews received 1964's Best Actress prize for playing the title role in Mary Poppins, a virginal nanny who cares for two mischievous children being raised by a stern father they hardly know. A year later she played the lead in The Sound of Music, as Maria, a virginal nun-in-training who cares for seven mischievous children also being raised by a stern father they hardly know. The latter was actually the better performance, Maria is far more complex and conflicted than the "practically perfect" Mary Poppins and is, therefore, a little easier to care about.
Yet, the academy didn't reward Andrews a second time. Instead they chose another English Julie, this one the newcomer Julie Christie. In John Schlesinger's Darling, she plays Diana Scott, a model in London who works her way up the social ladder by jumping in and out of various beds. Julie Christie had sex appeal and it is easy to think that she might have spent the rest of her career using her body to make her fame.
Yet she chose to be an ingénue rather than a starlet and the rest of her career would consist of strong, intelligent work in films like Far From the Madding Crowd, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Heaven Can Wait, Afterglow and Away From Her. When you consider these films and then think back on the dated Darling, it is easy to think that her Oscar may have been a bit premature.
I wouldn't have been terribly upset if Julie Andrews had won a second Oscar. Her performance in The Sound of Music was an improvement over her work in Mary Poppins because here she got to play a more complex character. She plays Maria, a nun in training who has yet to take her vows but doesn't seem to take her disciplines seriously as she should. The older nuns complain to The Mother Superior (supporting actress nominee Peggy Wood) that Maria is muddle-headed, that her attentions are swept away on mindless frivolity. They are right, Maria has such a lust for life, such a passion for music that she feels compelled by the beauty of a spring day to sing about it, which unfortunately takes her away from her studies.
Called into Mother Abbess' office, Maria explains, "I can't seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what's worse, I can't seem to stop saying things - anything and everything I think and feel." Mother Abbess understands but also sees that with such a passion, Maria will never find the discipline to be a nun and suggests that she might be better suited as a governess. The Mother Superior thinks she should experience more of the real world and sends her to the home of Captain Georg Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), a widower with seven children who have sent fourteen previous nannies packing.
Von Trapp is not a man of great humor. He is stern, disciplined man with a cold demeanor and a demand for absolute order. Since the death of his wife, he has forbidden music into his home and chooses to raise his children by means of strict military order. Maria doesn't buy it, she's stunned by the fact that the Captain gets the children in line by the use of a whistle. "Oh, no, sir. I'm sorry, sir. I could never answer to a whistle," she tells him. "Whistles are for dogs and cats and other animals, but not for children and definitely not for me. It would be too . . . humiliating." When he demonstrates the children's individual whistle signals, she inquires, "Excuse me, sir. I don't know your signal."
She is also stunned by his refusal to allow his children playtime, a problem she quickly remedies by making play clothes out of the drapes. What she demonstrates is her stubbornness and her refusal to be locked down or allow the children to have their individuality pulled away. Her heart is too full of life and energy to allow this. She has a heart full of music and a grand desire to share it. She has a song for every occasion, a song for every mood. Lacking confidence that she can be a governess she lifts her spirits by singing "I Have Confidence". When she realizes that the children don't know any songs she starts them off by teaching them "Do-Re-Mi". When the children are frightened by the storm, she teaches them to calm themselves by singing about "My Favorite Things." And, of course, when she is swept along by the beauty of the day, she sings of the hills being alive with the sound of music.
Yet, as confident as Maria is, she can't overcome the reality that her passion for life is overwhelming her desire to become a nun. She also realizes that she is causing the Captain's heart to melt but after he announces his engagement to a baroness, she quietly leaves his home to return to the convent. Confused, she talks with Mother Abbess about her decision, the good mother tells her "Maria, these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live." She understands Maria, she understands what is in her heart and convinces her that she has more to give out in the real world than she would behind the walls of the convent. Later, when the Captain breaks off his engagement to The Baroness and he and Maria fall in love, even to the point that they are discussing marriage.
I don't think The Sound of Music would work without Julie Andrews, it is her vibrant spirit and happy soul that brings the film to life. There is a light in her eyes that is unmistakable. What she brings to the film is the rare talent of being able to convincingly sell the song lyrics instead of just singing. Like Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, she can act while singing, so that when she sings that "The hills fill my heart with the sound of music. My heart wants to sing every song it hears", there is a lilt in her voice that lets us know that she believes what she is singing.
Julie Andrews is at her best early in this film. Later, when she falls in love with the Captain, then goes on the run with the family to get away from the Nazis, her performance kind of loses some momentum. Yet up to that point, her work is so original and so good that one could hardly complain. I wish she had won the Oscar for The Sound of Music, instead of Mary Poppins, because this film would signal the end of her greatness as a film actress. In years to come she would star in a string of mostly bad comedies with her husband Blake Edwards, (The exception is her overlooked performance in That's Life.) Lately, her career has been in family pictures like Shrek 2 and The Princess Diaries. She may not have been able to rise to that she hit in the sixties but even now, in her seventies, she still maintains that vibrant spirit that she had when she sang about the sound of music.