DVD Review: The Hills Are Alive With The ‘Song of Norway’

by Rachel Bellwoar

The musical, Song of Norway, talks a lot about Norwegian music and Edvard Grieg (Toralv Maurstad) was a Norwegian composer. It goes to follow that a musical about his life would find ways to incorporate his compositions, but what makes a song Norwegian? Can you tell songs apart by nationality the same way you can tell them apart by genre? Grieg’s friend and fellow composer, Rikard Nordraak (Frank Porretta), talks so passionately about creating a Norwegian sound that wouldn’t imitate the German classicists who were popular at the time. It’s a shame that Andrew L. Stone’s film can’t muster the same enthusiasm for the intricacies of composing. Instead Song of Norway relies on location shoots in Norway and Denmark to give the film its Norwegian identity.

No one can say that Stone doesn’t make the most out of Norway’s natural beauty. The film is full of montages showing off the country’s picturesque sights. However great a composer Grieg was, though — and if his name doesn’t sound familiar try looking up his song, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”) — Grieg (as played by Maurstad) is a lot less impressive. Most of the movie is him searching for his big break and not being able to afford the trip to Rome that would launch his career.
Robert Wright and George Forrest wrote the lyrics and adapted Grieg’s music for the operetta this movie adapts. The problem is you don’t always get to hear Grieg’s music by itself. “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” is one of Grieg’s biggest hits, but it is also used in one of the movie’s best scenes because the instruments are allowed to tell a story about trolls without words (Jack Kinney also provides animation for this sequence).
More than the man at the center of this movie, it’s the women who have capital and are invested in getting Greig’s talent recognized. Instead of Grieg supporting them, Therese (Christina Schollin) and Nina (Florence Henderson) support him. Yet, because of their gender, it’s done in secret, so his ego can be spared.
A two-and-a-half-hour movie shouldn’t run out of time and things to say, yet somehow Song of Norway manages the contradiction, depriving Grieg of his shot at a redemption arc. The opposite is true of the commentary track included on Kino Lorber’s DVD. Recorded by film historians Lee Gambin and John Harrison, there are no signs of trouble filling the time here as they point out parallels between Song of Norway and The Sound of Music and discuss the ways that the film was edited and other musical biopics. They also suggest ways that the film could’ve been improved, like making more out of the subplots that were introduced but then whimpered out, like Greig meeting Hans Christian Anderson (Richard Wordsworth). There’s also a lot of appreciation for Henderson and the movie musical career she should’ve had, instead making her mark on the stage and as Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch.
The best word to describe Song of Norway is pleasant, but their commentary is excellent, and available starting April 14th on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

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