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If you can complete the sentence, “The hills are alive,” and if you learned the phrase “auf wiedersehen” not from Heidi Klum on Project Runway but from the von Trapp children’s evening serenade, it might surprise you to learn that the film version of The Sound of Music was not an immediate critical success. The critical consensus found it saccharine and sentimental at best, a sugarcoated spin on the story it purported to tell.
But time has proven the critics wrong—or if not wrong, at least superseded by popular opinion. In the introduction to a new LIFE book on the movie, The Sound of Music: 50 Years Later, the Hills Are Still Alive, TIME’s film critic Richard Corliss unpacks its unlikely success. Despite its run as a musical alongside more modern shows like West Side Story and the movie’s release in the wake of Beatlemania, Corliss writes, “What…
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