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Hello, Dolly!

Hello, Dolly!
Fox Home Entertainment
1969 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 146 min. / Street Date August 19, 2003 / 14.98
Starring Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford, Marianne McAndrew, Louis Armstrong, Danny Lockin, E.J. Peaker, Joyce Ames, Tommy Tune, Judy Knaiz, Fritz Feld, Scatman Crothers
Cinematography Harry Stradling Sr.
Production Designer John DeCuir
Art Direction Herman A. Blumenthal, John de Cuir, Jack Martin Smith
Orchestrators Warren Barker, Frank Comstock, Don Costa, Alexander Courage
Michael Kidd
Film Editor William Reynolds
Original Music Lennie Hayton, Jerry Herman, Lionel Newman
Written by Ernest Lehman, Michael Stewart from The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder
Produced by Roger Edens, Ernest Lehman
Directed by Gene Kelly

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Well, it's big. It's in color. It's one of the pictures responsible for the collapse of the 20th Fox Studio that culminated in a humiliating auction of studio props and costumes in 1971 - right under the massive New York Street set built for this film, that was left standing for years to come. Hello, Dolly was probably on the drawing boards right after the colossal success of The Sound of Music in 1965, but various delays kept it from reaching screens until the cataclysmic year 1969, when Easy Rider threw the industry into a panic, and giant, expensive Roadshow extravaganzas were dying horrible deaths in empty theaters everywhere.


New York Matchmaker Dolly Levi (Barbara Streisand) has a tough match to arrange: she wants to hitch herself to Yonkers retailer Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau). Meanwhile, Horace's mischievous employees Cornelius Hackl (Michael Crawford) and Barnaby Tucker (Danny Lockin) sneak to Manhattan for a hot time, and find themselves on a wild date with milliners Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew) and Minnie Fay (E.J.Peaker).

If Hello, Dolly were a good movie, I'd feel less upset by its sad theatrical fate. Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau certainly weren't hurt by it, although it might have been a factor in Streisand turning to introspective goosh like Up the Sandbox a few years later. Hello, Dolly has to be the most overblown and noisy of the big sixties musicals. I saw a Civic Light Opera presentation in San Bernardino with Dorothy Lamour once; it played like a simple comedy and suffered from a shortage of memorable songs, but it had a lot of spirit.

The movie is one of those behemoths, where Hollywood does what it does best, worst. It's not adapted for the screen, it's been exploded. Horace and Dolly march with hundreds of costumed musicians down 5th Avenue in a huge parade that for scale and dazzle outdoes even old MGM films. Unfortunately, it doesn't really connect with the story and has no emotional impact. It's just there to provide La Babs with an extravagant background over which to sing. It's almost identical to the tugboat showstopper in Funny Girl, and all they had to do in that film was rent one tugboat.

Everything from the stage play is opened up, but the broad comedy and exaggeration that filled a confined stage look ridiculous in realistic settings that stretch as far as the eye can see. The 'musical' people flit around in the foreground of outdoor vistas doing their dancing stuff, while the rest of the world behaves like dull Hollywood extras behind them.

The supporting characters aren't much fun. Cornelius and Barnaby are less cute than obnoxious, especially Michael Crawford, whose mindless approach to character had been perfect for the satire of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The women are less problematic, but their roles are on the thin side; for all the period production design, the attitudes and performances are pitched no differently than a TV show. No really memorable personalities surface; Marianne McAndrew and E.J. Peaker are good-looking and obviously good dancers, but the show doesn't allow them to make an impression. Savant didn't care for much of The Sound of Music, but I have to admit that I clearly remember most of the faces of the Von Trapp brats, and it's been 20 years since I saw it last.

Matthau and Streisand come out of all this rather well, which is saying a lot considering the weird miscasting involved. Matthau as a bad choice for an unimaginative curmudgeon, as we expect him to be the sneaky, clever one. He looks constipated and unhappy throughout, yet still carries the role.

It must have been holy hell directing Streisand, but there's no denying that she made the best of her very inappropriate casting as a middle-aged matron. Shirley Booth played Dolly Levi in the 1950s movie; the matchmaker is supposed to be and look far older than the ingenues, so that it's a case of a smart Jewish cookie doing for herself what she's done for everyone else for a lifetime. Her various tricks and deceptions don't play half as well as they should, because we haven't the slightest notion why this practically-teenage Dolly would want Old Goat Horace Vandergelder for her mate. Still, the young Streisand had an undeniable star factor that lights up the screen. She tackles much of the dialogue with her not-bad Mae West imitation, and falls back on mild Fanny Brice schtick for the balance - although I didn't catch her crossing her eyes once.

Barbra's consistently amusing - not that it helps hold the movie together - and comes out with her head held high. In the parade scene, it looks as if somebody showed her Judy Garland's exuberant musical number with the train in The Harvey Girls; she runs through those lines of marching trombone players like she's catching the last trolley to Brooklyn.

Hello, Dolly is packed with musical numbers, with one popping up every few minutes in the shops, the stable yard, the park, another park. There are some okay songs, but really only the title tune stands out. The majority of the musical scenes just sit there. Michael Kidd's choreography is defeated by songs and locales that don't have enough personality; too often the kids are just joined by a few score dancers who do generic high-kick stuff. It's repetitive.

The one killer scene is the evening in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant with the gaudy red decor. Louis Armstrong's presence is no more justified than his set in Pennies from Heaven 33 years earlier, but he's a charming tangent and his duet with Barbara is indeed one of those great pop moments of the sixties. The dancing waiters are an energetic snooze (gee, is all that food really not glued to those trays?), but when the boys find out their boss Horace is there, the farcical panic that ensues is fairly amusing. Dolly Levi's grand entrance is indeed something to see.

What's to say about a film that's long on production and short on charm? The lighting is flat, the costumes cartoony, and Gene Kelly's direction isn't that hot. Physical action is stressed over any possible grace notes or charming touches. It's just not that kind of picture. Steisand loyalists and indiscriminate lovers of big, noisy musicals of any stripe will be thrilled by this new release. The low price won't hurt, either.

Fox's DVD of Hello, Dolly certainly looks good on DVD. The colorful vistas of Manhattan streets filled with parade crowds are impressive when spread out in widescreen Panavision. The original mix was in six-track for the 70mm prints, but there appear to be only two channels here. The mixdown has plenty of separation and oomph, however.

For extras, there's a rather nicely-cut original featurette in excellent condition, showing the film's giant parade scene being put together. Plenty of behind the scenes views of director Kelly, writer-producer Ernest Lehman, and choreographer Michael Kidd are shown, along with Barbra and Walter. There are also original trailers in English and Spanish. The Spanish narrator pronounces Barbra's name as 'Barbara', a mistake that interests me but seems to be without significance.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Hello, Dolly! rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: 1969 featurette, trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 21, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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