Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hello, Dolly! (1969)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv.

When I was a kid my favorite thing to listen to in the car was my dad's Broadway hits compilation. I learned tons of awesome showtunes before actually seeing the shows, and I'm still catching up on some. Well Hello, Dolly! can now be crossed off the list, exclamation point and all! Drawing from the stage musical (which itself drew from Thornton Wilder's farcical play), the film stars Barbra Streisand as Dolly Levi, a fast-talking widow-turned-matchmaker working in turn-of-the-century Yonkers, NY. She's trying to find a wife for surly "half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), but eventually realizes she wants him for herself and sets a plan in motion to achieve that goal. It mostly involves a day in New York City populated with plentiful song-and-dance numbers and several romantic subplots.

Directed by Gene Kelly, choreographed by Michael Kidd, and costumed by Irene Sharaff, Hello, Dolly! certainly looks the part of a classic musical adaptation. It's got a number of catchy tunes and a (mostly) talented cast to perform them, but unfortunately the plot is paper-thin, the comedy isn't very effective, and the script draaaaags. Louis Armstrong's there for a few minutes though.

The actors do their best with what they have, as Barbra gets in a few hilarious fast-paced one-liners and of course belts to her heart's content to many a sentimental tune. Walter Matthau is usually great but he's pretty out of place here, unable to sing a note and seemingly lost in the dialogue half the time. I actually think Michael Crawford steals the show as Vandergelder's opportunistic and awesomely-named assistant Cornelius Hackl. He's extremely animated and overly-enthusiastic in his performance, which totally suits the role, and I loved his musical numbers. Plus he cannot figure out his accent, it's kind of adorable. I also enjoyed Tommy Tune's small appearance as a painter romancing Vandergelder's niece; he is possibly the tallest dancer in show business?

Sometimes the film seems to be almost a parody of classic musicals, with certain self-aware moments that I appreciated, but for the most part it's just sort of insipid. I know there are so many musicals out there with stupid storylines and unconvincing romances, but usually they can save themselves with a clever script and memorable musical numbers. Half the songs in Hello, Dolly! are fun and catchy, with colorful large-scale dance sequences, but the others are dull or unoriginal. I did really enjoy chunks of it though and the cast is trying their hardest, so I can't write it off completely.


PS Is it just me or did this sort of feel like a 2+ hour-long advertisement for Harmonia Gardens? Is that place a big deal? Does it even exist? I don't feel like checking.

Pair This Movie With: The only other Barbra musical I've seen is Yentl, so there's that. Or I know there's The Matchmaker, a non-musical version of the story with Shirley MacLaine, which I haven't seen. So really the best recommendation I have is Wall-E, which features Hello, Dolly! in a super cute way.


  1. Alex,

    Oh I love Barbra Streisand! Okay but her best musical and you really should check it out, is Funny Girl. I just reviewed it a week ago.

    Her performance is brilliant in it and the songs are really good. It's also one of the best musicals ever made!

  2. I tried to watch this film and couldn't get into it except for Michael Crawford and the two songs that he sang that appeared in WALL-E. It came out at a time when these big Hollywood productions were kind of on their way out in favor of films like Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy. Plus, I'm not really into Barbra Streisand unless she's getting her ass kicked by Robert Smith of the Cure.

  3. Another big recommendation for watching Funny Girl. It's still her best movie.