- OnStage Editor-in-Chief
In my previous editions of this column I've talked about how certain villains might have been given a bad rap, but let's be honest, there are plenty of characters that don't get enough of a rap. Often times these characters are either forgotten because they don't really play a integral part in the overall arc of the story, or their doings are never so overtly devious that they become automatically noticeable.
I was recently watching The Sound of Music, and the thought I kept having was, "Man, Rolfe is kind of a jerk."
But the thing is, he never stopped being a jerk. In fact he's a jerk throughout the entire movie. And while one key moment has always stopped most from thinking he's a defined villain, his act isn't that heroic.
So let's go through movie version of The Sound of Music and break down how Rolfe Gruber was never actually a good guy.
When we're first introduced to Rolfe, he's delivering a telegram for the Captain. When he is greeted by the doorman, the two exchange words about "developments" and "movement" which implies that they are both Nazi supporters.
Later on when Liesl goes to meet him by the gazebo, he makes a point to tell Liesl how "Austrian" her father is, despite the fact that he too, is Austrian. Rolfe goes on to state how some people feel they should be German instead of Austrian, which means he's referring to himself.
He then goes onto tell Liesl how worried he is for her because she is such a "baby." Next he launches into the misogynistic anthem that is "Sixteen Going on Seventeen".
Now some could make a point that this song isn't misogynistic because Rolfe is just explaining his feelings for Liesl in a masculine way, I don't really buy that. Some could also make the point that the song is misogynistic but falls in line with early 1960's mentalities(when the show was written) or early 1940's(when the show takes place). That's a fair point. But in 2016, songs like that wouldn't fly very well unless being performed by an established villain, which Rolfe never really is. By the way, much credit has got to go to Daniel Truhitte for the way he played Rolfe in the movie.
The music is sweet but when looking at the lyrics by themselves, it's pretty dark. In fact, if Chase Holfelder gave the song his "Minor Key Treatment", it would be downright creepy. Let's take a look some of the lyrics and what Rolfe is truly saying here.
You wait, little girl, on an empty stage
For fate to turn the light on (You're sheltered and naive)
Your life, little girl, is an empty page
That men will want to write on (You're bound to be viewed as a sex object)
You are sixteen going on seventeen
Baby(Condescendingly), it's time to think(You're dumb)
Better beware, be canny and careful
Baby(More condescendingly), you're on the brink (You're really dumb)
You are sixteen going on seventeen
Fellows will fall in line
Eager young lads and rogues and cads
Will offer you food and wine (You're likely going to get drunk alot)
Totally unprepared are you
To face a world of men (Because you're naive and dumb)
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of things beyond your kin (You're sheltered to the point where you can't tell wrong from right)
You need someone older and wiser (Like a guy 12 months older than you)
Telling you what to do (Get in the kitchen woman!)
I am seventeen going on eighteen (I can now enlist in the Nazi Army)
I'll take care of you
After Rolfe makes his manly deceleration known, he disappears for a while. We only see him again in a short scene where he makes sure to give his Nazi salute. After that we don't see him again until right before the concert but by then, he's all-in with the Nazi Party. He makes it a point to tell Liesl that "we make it our business to know everything about everyone." I bet he learned that in Gestapo school.
When Liesl asks if he wants to deliver his telegram to her house, so that they can have another gazebo pecking session, he sternly tells her, "I'm now concerned with more important matters. See your father gets this telegram if he knows what's good for him."
Now comes the pivotal scene that's been up for debate. After the concert, as the Von Trapp Family are escaping, Rolfe(now in full on Swastika garb) catches them leaving the cemetery. With Rolfe is pointing the gun at him, the Captain motions for his family to run to the waiting car.
As the Captain approaches, Rolfe threatens to shoot him but can't. The Captain takes his gun and says "You'll never be one of them," which Rolfe reacts, by alerting his fellow soldiers to the Van Trapp's presence.
Now the debate I've heard is that Rolfe is actually a good guy because he let's the family go. But having re-watched this scene, that's never really the case. First of all, he never lowers his gun or makes a motion to let the family escape. He keeps it square on the Captain. Also his intentions never change, he keep stating that he will either take the Captain to his lieutenants or shoot him dead right there, in close proximity to his family.
But the most important element here is what the Captain says to Rolfe. After pleading with Rolfe to abandon the Nazi Party and runaway with them and Rolfe giving up his gun, the reaction to the Captain's line of "You'll never be one of them", is very telling of who Rolfe actually is.
I would like to think that most people would say, "Of course I won't be. I'm against violent takeovers of my home country!" But Rolfe doesn't react that way. In fact he becomes angry and offended at the idea that he's not a Nazi soldier. As if to say, "How dare you for not thinking that I don't support terrorizing my fellow countrymen!"
And remember that when he alerts his fellow soldiers, he says, "They're here!", which means Rolfe was ready and willing to turn in the entire Von Trapp family including Sun is gone-Gretl and Liesl, the girl he so dickishly said he would take care of.
It would be completely different if Rolfe's transition to the Nazi Party was done out of fear or pressure. But from the opening moments his appearance, Rolfe portrays himself as a willing and even enthusiastic volunteer. When you add this to his views on the roles of women in relationships, can we put to rest the argument over whether or not Rolfe was every a good guy? Me thinks so.