Ah, the turmoil of Breaking Up with someone.
Depending where you fit in the scenario, a Breakup can either be painful or a relief. At other times, it might be the sting of a Bruised Ego.
It’s the latter Breakup we’re examining today, such as the one in The Sound of Music (1965). This legendary musical is about a young novitiate named Maria who becomes governess to a family of seven children, and (spoiler!) marries their widowed father.
This film has never been favourite of ours, but there are many things to admire, including the wardrobe, scenery, and – of course – music.
It’s not without interesting characters, such as Maria (Julie Andrews), the sartorially-challenged Force of Nature, and all those lively Von Trapp children.
Parker’s Baroness, we think, is an underrated performance. She’s a sleek, amusing figure in a stunning wardrobe.
She’s also calculating. There’s rarely a moment in the film when Parker-as-Baroness is not studying. Watch her as she analyzes the chemistry developing between Maria and the Captain. She knows Something’s Up, even before they do.
Her scenes with Richard Haydn (Uncle Max, the freeloading impresario) are delightful. You can tell these two love gossiping with – and about – each other, but alas! Uncle Max falls under Maria’s Spell, leaving the Baroness without an ally.
But our gal ain’t Leaving without a Fight, even though the match is rigged from the start.
Who was to know, for example, that when she arrived from Vienna to meet the Von Trapp brood, their hearts had already been stolen by Another?
Maria (that homewrecker) has also captured the Captain’s heart. Our Baroness desperately tries to regain lost territory, but Maria the Conqueror is not easily vanquished.
But she must try. During a party, the Baroness has a private little chat with Maria regarding the Captain, as in: Back Off. “Come, my dear,” she says lightly, “we are women. Let us not pretend we don’t know when a man notices us.”
Maria is aghast to learn of the Captain’s attraction towards her. But the Baroness, shrewdly aiming at Maria’s sense of honour and duty, devalues his affections. “He’ll get over it soon enough, I should think,” she shrugs. “Men do, you know.”
However, not even she can alter the Maria-and-Captain-Von-Trapp Collision Course.
The End is coming, and there’s no way around it.
It happens on a moonlit balcony. The Captain tells the Baroness, “It’s no use,” but our gal cuts him off. She’ll not be humiliated by a badly-dressed Convent Dropout.
She gives him the speech she’ll likely tell her friends back in Vienna. “As fond as I am of you,” she says brightly, “I really don’t think you’re the right man for me. You’re much too independent, and I need someone who needs me desperately. Or, at least, needs my money desperately.”
She’s lovely and radiant, but there’s no missing the subtext: I’m the one making this Decision. Watch as she kisses the Captain’s cheek and thanks him for “every moment we’ve had together”, and means it. She makes it seem like she’s handing him a gift.
Which she is.
Baroness Schraeder may be Eleanor Parker’s best-remembered performance, although many have called this role “boring” and “colourless”.
We disagree. Parker was one of those actresses who immersed herself in her characters; each one was unique. This is why, some say, she never became a big Movie Star. Audiences didn’t know who the Eleanor Parker Character was.
She once said, “When I’m spotted somewhere, it means that my characterizations haven’t covered up Eleanor Parker the person. I prefer it the other way around.”¹
Her turn as Baroness Schraeder in The Sound of Music is one of her many stellar performances. If Julie Andrews weren’t so funny and charming, Parker would certainly steal the film.
But we’ll content ourselves with admiring her as Baroness Schraeder and relishing her face-saving Breakup Technique.
The Sound of Music: starring Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker. Directed by Robert Wise. Written by Ernest Lehman. Robert Wise Productions, 1965, Technicolor, 172 mins.