Friday, 22 October 2010

Flashback: Hello, Dolly!

If you’ve been paying especially keen attention you’d know that I’m not the biggest fan of Gene Kelly. I think I’ve called him overly precise, and I won’t deny that some of my lack of interest centres on the fact that I generally loathe An American in Paris, but I’m digressing. If I had to pick a favourite Gene Kelly movie, it’d be one that he’s not even inHello, Dolly! I have a vaguely embarrassing love for Hello, Dolly! even though Nick despises it (oddly enough, I agree with an oddly large portion of his review, and I love it – go figure). Hello, Dolly! is based on a Broadway Musical which is in turn based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play – “The Matchmaker”. Its plot is simple, painstakingly so. Dolly Levi has been a widow for some time, and occupies her time by arranging things. She has her sights set on Horace Vandergelder who in turn has his eyes on Irene Molloy – a milliner. Horace is the guardian of his niece Ermengarde (what a a name), who’s in love with a starving artist of sorts Ambrose. Dolly pretends to set Horace up with Irene, sending him off to town.; though she's really trying to to put forth her own agenda. She in turn convinces Ermendgarde and Ambrose to go to town, along with Barnaby and Cornelius - two of Vandergelder's workers. All in all it's a musical clusterf*** of a situation.
The thing is, Barbra Streisand is (in theory) all wrong for the role. She’s about three decades too young for the role, because there’s no way that Barbra (two years after Funny Girl) is an aging widow of how many years. But, really, I don’t even care about the age thing, or the obvious lack of chemistry with Walter Matthau (we all know that Jack Lemmon was the superior member of The Odd Couple). Barbra can act and she can sing, but above all else – she can play funny, and that’s what so brilliant about her in Hello, Dolly!. It’s just one constant torrent of funny bits and she sells them excellently. With the exception of Matthau, the cast is quite good but Barbra steals the show.
Really, Hello, Dolly! doesn’t make much sense. The story is one of those ridiculous comedies that thoroughly amusing in its inane way, and I like that about it. It doesn’t have the strongest score (and the title song is oddly weak), but it’s well directed (yay, Gene Kelly) and well acted (yay Barbra). In fact “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” just may be one of the strongest ensemble musical numbers of all time. It has the sort of quotable quotes that make you roll your eyes and laugh and still think about their lucidity (case in point: “”). At its worst Hello, Dolly! is a kind of riduclous bauble; at its best Hello, Dolly! is easy watching – and I like to think of it at its best.
Ever seen the 1969 classic?


TomS said...

Andrew, I sure did see "Hello Dolly" in its original release, as a child.

You might enjoy my review of it in my series last winter about Oscar Year 1969. (February, I believe).

"Dolly" got a huge push from 20th Century Fox, and a slew of Oscar nominations, including Best picture. Fox hoped it would capture the same sentiment (and revenues) as "The Sound of Music", but by then, audiences had become exhausted by big musical films, and stayed home.

To me, Matthau appeared incredibly uncomfortable, and Streisand often seemed not to connect with other members of the cast. Imagine the original, non-musical play, which cast Shirley Booth as the matchmaker. THAT was great caasting!

The reason to see this is for a rare screen appearance by Louis Armstrong, whose rendition of the title tune was a huge, huge hit and played all the time on the radio in the 1960's.

The Broadway Show with Carol Channing was regarded as splendid. There was a revival later with Pearl Bailey as Dolly!

I actually thought the tunes were pretty good, although not as memorable today as standards like "West Side Story" or "My Fair Lady". And yes, the storyline was antiquated by then. Gene Kelly was perhaps most responsible for the staging of some of the bigger numbers (the parade, for example) but beyond that the direction was serviceable, and not distinctive.

On the whole, it stands up as a mildly entertaining example the seismic changes taking place in Hollywood at that time. "Dolly" lost the BP award to "Midnight Cowboy"...

Luke said...

Oh gosh - here's one I've missed out on apparently. Though I definitely agree that Streisand has some remarkable timing, my extent of Dolly viewing is restricted to WALL-E. :)