Match-maker and widow, Dolly Levi visits half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder to help him find a wife. But she decides she wants him for herself and hatches a wild plan that involves his two assistants, a milliner, a dance competition and a gigantic parade.
WON 3 OSCARS – Art Direction, Music, Sound.
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“Dolly Levi, you are a damned exasperating woman!”
As a still shot of a 1890s New York comes to life, a pair of heels click-clack down the street. The tapping feet belong to Ms. Dolly Levi, who has “always been a woman who arranges things like luncheon parties, poker games, and love.” She’s a woman on a mission. The immense star status of Barbra Streisand fills the screen in Gene Kelly’s Hello, Dolly!, a large-scale musical about a matchmaker’s ultimate assignment: her own set-up.
Fast-talking, quick-thinking and charismatic Dolly (Barbra Streisand) arrives in Yonkers, New York to prepare grumpy, old Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) for Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew), a lovely woman in New York. But Dolly realizes that she’d be perfect for him instead and decides to derail this set-up without his knowledge. Dolly promises Vandergelder’s niece and boyfriend that if they go to New York City and enter a dance contest, she can convince Vandergelder to approve of their marriage. Dolly also sends Vandergelder’s sheltered assistants to New York City, promising two lovely women (one of them Irene Molloy) and excitement. And as they all meet for the climax of the film, it becomes a spectacle of dancing, food fights, and hilarious confrontation until Dolly swoops in and re-arranges things to everyone’s liking.
With choreographer Michael Kidd and director Gene Kelly overseeing the musical numbers, the songs are precisely timed and executed. Most of the songs are large-scale, utilizing hundreds of dancers, quick choreography and athletic skill. “Before the Parade Passes By” is remarkable for its sheer scale. The number contains thousands of people in a parade, with marching bands, floats and performers. As the camera moves back, Dolly gets lost in the crowd as the parade stretches for miles. But most memorable is the Harmonia Gardens sequence that took a month to film. Waiters dance around the room, setting up and taking down tables and food with increasing speed until Dolly appears at the top of the staircase. Ms. Streisand takes over, performing the film’s title song with a rare and lovely cameo from jazz legend Louis Armstrong.
Reportedly, Walter Matthau did not get along with Barbra Streisand during the making of the film and refused to kiss her on screen or speak to her during takes. This however, is not apparent in on screen as they manage to allow their characters to share a chemistry that balances their relationship. They have good comedic timing as Dolly is mostly over-the-top dramatic and Vandergelder is a stuffy, frustrated man. Dolly can be slightly grating, but her quiet moments of soliloquy give her some much-needed depth. Ms. Streisand’s voice is exceptional and especially shines in her “Hello, Dolly” number with Louis Armstrong. Also incredibly talented is the amusing Michael Crawford who plays Vandergelder’s assistant. His vocals are strong and his ability to throw himself against tables and walls is entertaining.
While it doesn’t quite make sense why Dolly requires Vandergelder’s niece and boyfriend to enter a dance contest or his assistants to trek all the way to New York to a particular restaurant, the film makes all the events amusing enough to let that go. While Streisand can sometimes chew scenes, she has the presence to pull it off with a flair that is all her own. Unfortunately, the audience can’t fully believe that Dolly, the cultured, fast-paced New Yorker can settle down in Yonkers with the surly Vandergelder and live happily ever after. The film ends before that can ever be explored. Hello, Dolly!, serving as a star vehicle for Barbra Streisand, is an amusing adventure into the world of Dolly Levi, a smart woman who knows what motivates human behaviour and uses it to her advantage.