Many people will recognize some scenes from Hello, Dolly! because they are referenced in WALL-E. I’ll admit, that was a great part of my motivation for watching this film. Another part of it was that it was directed by Gene Kelly, who I was surprised to see direct a film and who I greatly admire. I wasn’t as excited about Streisand or the plot, but I was willing to give it a chance based on Kelly and the songs I had already heard from WALL-E. It payed off for the most part; there where things that bothered me, but on the whole I really liked the film.
Mrs. Dolly Levi (Barbara Streisand) is a matchmaker. She seems to know everybody and loves to arrange things. She doesn’t stop short of arranging things for herself either. She goes down to Yonkers with the intention of getting this old rich grumpy guy, Horace Vandergelder (Walter Mathau), to marry her. This seems very unlikely, because they are polar opposites. He always seems annoyed by her, and she still seems to love her dead husband, so this whole relationship was really weird. Dolly spends the whole film scheming to marry him, and seems to be really enjoying herself, but Vandergelder isn’t. Because this is a musical, they of course get together in the end, but I was never really buying it.
Vandergelder owns a grain store, for farming and stuff, and he runs a pretty tight ship. His two employees, Cornelius Hackl (Michael Crawford) and Barnaby Tucker (Danny Lockin), have basically no life outside of the store. Seeing Vandergelder go away is just about the last straw for them; they can’t stand being stuck there so they close the store up and decide to go to New York and experience life. Dolly uses their discontent to her advantage; she sends them to Irene Molloy’s (Marianne McAndrew), the woman she was supposed to set up Vandergelder with. She has a friend, Minnie Fay (EJ Peaker), who goes with Barnaby. These two love stories were a lot more plausible, and it was pretty adorable and also inspiring to see Cornelius and Barnaby get out for a change. There’s also a minor story with Ambrose (Tommy Tune) and Ermengard (Joyce Ames); Ermengard is Vandergelder’s niece and they are trying to get married but Vandergelder objects to Ambrose because he’s an artist or something similarly impractical. Dolly fixes everything, naturally. These two were pretty funny together because Ambrose was really tall and Ermengard was really short, but other than that were pretty unremarkable.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about Streisand. I’m not really her biggest fan, but I don’t necessarily dislike her either. The only other film I’ve seen her in is Funny Girl, which I didn’t like at all. This one was a lot better. I’m sure it’s not the character she’s playing; they’re both annoying. She’s a convincing enough actress and a great performer, but sometimes her singing style is just not to my taste. I’m guessing what did it for me here was the music; I liked the songs a lot better. When she’s singing bigger jazzier songs I like her a lot better, but when it’s slow stuff you can just count me out. Plus her role in this film, while still being the main character, is not as central as in Funny Girl. If you like Streisand though, don’t worry, you’ll still see plenty of her and she’s pretty great.
The dancing was pretty good. I was surprised to see that Kelly did not actually choreograph the film; it was done by Micheal Kidd who also did the choreography for The Band Wagon. It’s very energetic when actual dancers are present. It’s really apparent that the choreography is holding back at some points, and it hurts the film somewhat but not enough to kill it by any means. They fill it in with the enormity of the cast for the most part. Just so we’re clear, it’s not just Streisand, Mathau has the same problem. Kidd just has him march around basically. There is a lot of great dancing on display here though; Crawford and Lockin are fantastic. There was one point where Lockin just slides under a table and my jaw dropped. It’s also really ironic when Dolly is supposed to be trying to teach Cornelius and Barnaby how to dance, when their “failed” attempts are more impressive than her successes.
I didn’t do a run through of all the songs in the film; I find this is really difficult unless I’ve seen the film a bunch of times. One song here stands out above the rest, and it’s one of the ones referenced in WALL-E. “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” is one of the happiest and cheerful songs I have ever heard, and as I am a fan of musicals, which generally employ happy cheerful songs, that’s saying quite a lot. It starts off with Barnaby and Cornelius, with Cornelius doing most of the singing, and then Dolly picks it up along with a huge ensemble. It grows and grows as the anticipation of what’s to come takes over. The song is just about how all of them are going to finally experience life and “take New York by storm!” This song just puts a huge smile on my face; I can’t help it. I watched this on TCM and the guy who talks about the historical background said that Hello, Dolly! was an attempt by Fox to recreate their success with The Sound of Music, and during this number I believed it. Not the song or anything big, but there were just a couple of moments that stuck out to me having this background information. There were a bunch of kids on steps that were in a similar formation as the Von Trapp kids in “So Long, Farewell” and right after that a bunch of singers rode by in a horse drawn carriage similar to “Do Re Mi” in The Sound of Music. Regardless, this was hands down the best song in the film and basically made the whole movie for me.
There are other great songs in here, too. Standouts, though admittedly second tier after “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” are “Just Leave Everything to Me,” “It Only Takes a Moment,” and “Hello, Dolly!” of course. “Hello, Dolly!” is definitely the best out of that bunch. I don’t like where they fit it in in the story, though, so when it came up in the film I wasn’t actually too pleased. It’s stuck with me more than the rest of these though. Particularly notable is the Louis Armstrong cameo; who doesn’t love one of those? Streisand also does really well here; it’s pretty jazzy so I was happy. “It Only Takes A Moment” is the other song that’s referenced in WALL-E, but I wasn’t too excited about that one. “Just Leave Everything to Me” is the opener for the film, and it’s a good song that was written specifically for Streisand. Unfortunately, Kelly decided to do some annoying things with the direction in the opening sequence, but that’s the only time he did this so I suppose we can be grateful.
The rest of the songs were various shades of forgettable or annoying. The worst was without a doubt “It Takes a Woman.” It’s pretty catchy, but in the worst way possible. Mathau starts singing it, and unfortunately it fits his character perfectly, but then Streisand takes it up and the whole thing becomes worse. When Mathau’s singing it’s about how he wants a wife to do all this household work for him, and when Streisand’s singing it’s about how she wants to marry him to she can arrange his life. Either way, it makes women seem pretty terrible and I was not a fan.
One thing I will say for this film is that for a musical it dares to go on location. That’s relatively unusual and it makes a great impact. The last musical I reviewed, New York, New York, made use of annoyingly artificial sets as a genre comment. While it is exaggerated, it’s not by much in some cases. In Hello, Dolly! Kelley goes outside for some scenes, and even when he doesn’t the attention to the sets is fantastic. The number I was mentioning earlier, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” makes use of an actual train they restored specifically for this film. That’s amazing to think of, and they put it to great use. It’s a train going to New York full of happy singing people ready for adventure!
On the whole, Hello, Dolly! probably isn’t that great of a film. It’s certainly not considered as such by critics. I did find my attention wavering at some points, and the flimsy plot is ridiculously slow, even for a musical. If you’re not a fan of musicals, I would advise you to stay away from this one. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the movie. I don’t think anybody can deny the talent of the cast, especially Crawford and Streisand. The film has a lot of problems, but it made me happy and that’s what this type of film is meant for. At the end of the day it’s about getting out, enjoying life, and doing things you’ve always wanted to. It’s a good message, and the film definitely gets it across.
“Put on your Sunday clothes, there’s lots of world out there!”
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars