This film was made in 1969, some time after the golden age for Hollywood Musicals, However, Hello Dolly is reminiscent of the flamboyant, feel-good, funny musicals of the 40s and 50s. Barbra Streisand (too young for the role, but she gives it all she’s got) plays widow Dolly Levi, who makes a living by – among other things – running a matchmaker service of sorts. She is determined to marry the rich but dour Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), but he has decided to propose to Irene Malloy – a woman Dolly introduced him to. While attempting to ensure that Horace and Irene don’t get together, Dolly also gets involved with the love lives of two naive young men who work at Vandergelder’s store.
This film was problematic in many ways for the producers, and director Gene Kelly – not least because Walter Matthau detested Barbra Streisand, thought she had no talent, and refused to talk to her at all unless the script called for it (he also stopped speaking to co-star Michael Crawford during the filming, after Crawford placed a bet on a horse named Hello Dolly – which won its race – because the name of the horse reminded Matthau of Streisand). No doubt there were some tensions on set, but fortunately it does not come through on the screen.
The film might be slightly over-long, with a lot of story to pack in, but it is still a joy from start to finish. Jam-packed with catchy songs, and terrific dancing, it’s full of colour, life and laughter. Although Streisand clearly IS too young for the role, she still plays the part well, and makes Dolly a thoroughly loveable woman. The character could have been irritating, but Streisand allows Dolly’s love for life, and desire for happiness shine through – as well as her vulnerabilities.
Matthau was fine as the grumpy Vandergelder; I do think plenty of other people could have played the part equally as well, or possibly even better, but nonetheless Matthau’s portrayal really made me smile.
The supporting actors, particularly Marianne MacAndrew, and a young Michael Crawford, all play their parts well, and their stories are a worthwhile part of the film.
Admittedly, the film isn’t perfect; the running time of almost two and a half hours is a lot for a musical, although there is a story being told here as well. Unlike many musicals where the plot is just there as a way of stringing the song and dance numbers together, this film would work without the musical aspects – and indeed is adapted from a non-musical play, which in turn was adapted from Thornton Wilder’s story ‘The Matchmaker’. Also, some of the cast tend to over-act, although this is not uncommon in musical comedies.
However, what the film lacks in precision, it makes up for in enthusiasm and laughter. This film left me with a warm happy feeling, and is perfect entertainment if you like lovely songs and lots of laughs.
Year of release: 1969
Director: Gene Kelly
Producers: Roger Edens, Ernest Lehman
Writers: Thornton Wilder (book), Michael Stewart (book of stage play), Ernest Lehman, Johann Nestroy
Main cast: Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford, Marianne McAndrew, Danny Lockin, E.J. Peaker