"The stage version was also a little too politically heavy-handed at times, something Lehman made an effort to play down in the final drafts. But in the outline some of the heaviness remained. One scene, which was later excised, is a perfect illustration. At the ball the Captain throws for Elsa, the guests, including Maria, are all sitting down to dinner, and Elsa begins to talk about appeasing the Nazis. Maria cannot resist saying something highly patriotic, and the Captain is obviously moved."
Excerpt from The Sound of Music, the Making of America's Favorite Movie, by Julia Antopol Hirsch.
Since Maria never made it to dinner, this is the idea I came up with to give the scene a chance to exist. I always thought it would have been one of the strongest scenes of the entire film.
Maybe I took it a little too far, but somehow, the scene seemed to ask for it.
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When the children disappeared from sight, all the guests turned to each other and started commenting on the incredible performance. Maria was highly praised by an elderly couple, who commended her ability to work with children, to which Maria replied that she only had good things to say about the family she worked for.
Her work done for the evening, Maria quietly made for the stairs, but Max spotted her and hurried to cut off her silent retreat.
"Young lady, I must have a word with you."
"Excuse me sir, but..." Maria began, a bit uncomfortable at being singled out in the crowd.
But Max was already turning to the Captain, intent on whatever he had in mind.
"Georg, Georg," he called to his friend, who was currently engaged in a lively conversation with a lady. When Georg turned his head he went on. "You're not going to let this girl get away. She has to join the party."
Maria's heart missed a beat at that. The mere prospect made her want to fidget. She'd rather withdraw until the next day, when everything returned to normal and she could dedicate herself to what truly filled her heart. That unique, special family she was beginning to realize she couldn't manage without.
"No, really!" she shook her head vehemently. "I..."
Max raised one finger to shush her.
"Stop. Stop it now," he said kindly. "Georg, please," he asked.
Georg turned his head again and this time, looked at her.
Unable to hold his penetrating gaze after the whirlpool of emotions that had swept her away during the Laendler, Maria looked down timidly as her heart began to pound in her chest savagely once more. That was one of the reasons why she wanted to retire. She needed to collect herself.
"You can if you want to, Fraulein," he said with a soft smile, before returning to his conversation with the lady next to him, who seemed quite excited about something and kept trying to draw his attention.
"I insist," Max pressed, "you will be my dinner partner." He turned to Elsa with a conspiratorial wink. "This is business. Franz!" he called when he saw the butler walking past them. The man stopped in his tracks and looked at him. "Set another place next to mine for fraulein Maria."
Immediately, Franz's eyes turned to the Captain, asking for his consent to proceed. Georg gave him a quick nod and turned again to the woman he had been talking to.
"Whatever you say, herr Detweiler," he complied, walking away.
"Well, it appears to be all arranged, doesn't it?" Georg said with an air of satisfaction.
"Certainly it does," Elsa smiled, once again giving the perfect impression that she was utterly happy with something that actually made her seethe.
"I'm not suitably dressed," Maria tried to come up with one last excuse that released her from the commitment.
"You can change. We'll wait for you," Georg said then, disarming her completely.
How to refuse that man anything? The thought barely crossed her conscious mind before she was raising her hand to her head and giving in.
"All right." She cast one last look at Max, who nodded his approval.
But just when she was beginning to turn round, a mocking voice intruded.
"I guess I have to congratulate you, Captain."
Georg stiffened at the sound of the voice, and turned around with calculated slowness.
Responding instinctively to his body language, Maria tensed up too and turned her head.
A middle-aged man, medium-height, and with a thin moustache walked up to them.
"Indeed, Herr Zeller?" Georg asked rhetorically, the mockery in his voice matching the older man's to perfection.
"Of course," Herr Zeller looked up at the second floor, where the children had disappeared. "Your children just gave the sweetest performance."
The sarcasm in the man's voice had Maria turning completely, facing the newcomer. She ground her teeth in anger.
"I didn't know you had a soft spot for music, Herr Zeller. I'm touched," Georg said, apparently unflappable, a cold smile on his lips.
"I do have a soft spot, Captain," Herr Zeller replied. "But not for this type of music. I find it too... cloying for my taste."
"Don't tell me. Your soft spot is for Nazi marches," Georg's head tipped to one side teasingly.
Maria cringed inwardly. The man was a Nazi! Her stomach turned in disgust.
"Austria doesn't hold a monopoly on virtue," Herr Zeller's stance hardened. "It's merely a pathetic shadow of what it once was," he made a short pause for the offense to register. "But it can rise from its ashes again, if people like you are wise enough to know what's best." The man's eyes narrowed into slits, the veiled threat obvious.
Georg set his jaw and his eyes flashed dangerously, but all of a sudden, an ironic sneer crossed his features.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Maria noticed Max Detweiler and Baroness Schraeder's subtle physical retreat, clearly intimidated by the intensity of the verbal duel between the two men. It was shorter than the shortest step, but it felt to her as if the world could fall through the gap they left in front of them.
"Fortunately, there are still many of us in this country who prefer Austrian voices raised in song to ugly German threats," Georg didn't bother to hide his deep loathing of the man and his political affinities.
Zeller's eyebrows arched scornfully.
"Ugly, Captain? Really..."
"Personally, I would describe them as 'growling'," the words left Maria's lips spontaneously, and she took one step forward, standing shoulder to shoulder with Georg.
If the Captain was surprised at her intrusion, he gave no outward sign of it. Instead, he turned to her a little bit, in a gesture that spoke volumes. A joint force to be reckoned with.
For the first time, Herr Zeller seemed to acknowledge Maria's presence. He turned malicious, contemptuous eyes on her.
"I would advise you to instruct your employees to stay out of matters that don't concern them, Captain," he addressed Georg only, as if he had decided she was of no consequence after all.
Before Georg could respond, Maria beat him to it.
"It does concern me, sir. As an Austrian, I consider your words scandalous," her eyes blazed furiously. "You must know that I arranged the children's performance tonight. And if it's going to cause my employer any trouble, then make no mistake about it. It concerns me!" she gave a curt, indignant nod.
Zeller's eyes opened wide and darted from Maria to Georg and back. A nasty grin appeared on his face.
"I see I was too hasty in my standard compliments earlier. What an extraordinary display of loyalty!" For a moment, he seemed honestly surprised. "You're a lucky man, Captain. I wonder what you gave her to earn such a passionate defense. Or perhaps she gave it... to you?" he looked at them with a lewd smile.
Maria and Georg jerked back in unison, as if they had been physically struck by the slanderous accusation. One heartbeat later, Georg's eyes inflamed with hatred and outrage, and he started forward with a hiss.
"You dirty b--!" he snarled.
"Captain!" Maria exclaimed, putting up her hand and effectively stopping him with that simple gesture. With an outer calm she didn't really feel inside, she stared at the person who had just defamed her in public, with a blending of pity, disdain and revulsion. "It's not necessary," she said in a soft voice. "We all know that Nazi mentality is... how shall I put it? One-track mind?" her voice dripped irony and contempt, and she held Herr Zeller's gaze until he looked away. Only then did she turn her head, addressing Georg for the first time since their dance with a clean, steady, unafraid look in her eyes. "If you'll excuse me, sir," she asked formally, her voice suffused now with deference to him as an honourable man, and to what he represented.
Returning her clean look, Georg bowed courteously, conveying more respect in that gentlemanly gesture than an army of ferocious knights ever could to a woman's virtue and modesty.
Turning about, Maria headed upstairs with her natural feminine grace.
When she was gone, Georg stepped forward and confronted Herr Zeller, looking down at him with barely repressed hostility, as if daring him to give him a reason.
"I won't be as polite and civil as the lady who was just here," he pronounced the word 'lady' with such an impassioned vehemence that it brought a shiver up and down many spines. "I'm not going to kindly invite you to leave," his voice oozed venom.
Herr Zeller's eyebrows arched again in mocking challenge. He pursed his lips derisively and turned around. Dozens of eyes followed him to the door, that closed after him with an echoing sound.
Georg took a deep, calming breath and turned to his guests. Many of them were gathering round him already, good old friends from the navy, congratulating him wholeheartedly for the way he had handled the situation, shaking his hand and patting his back warmly.
Above them, rippling proudly in the enormous hall, the Austrian flag watched over a man and a woman's love for their country, and their quiet, blossoming love for each other.