Hello, Dolly! (1969)
Directed by Gene Kelly

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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In New York, in 1890, Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand), a conniving, gold digging widow who earns her living as a matchmaker, decides to find a husband for herself. Her attention having fallen on the irascible and mean-spirited owner of a feed store, Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), Dolly quickly sets in motion a complex web of plots designed to win the wealthy miser's heart.

Gene Kelly's musical Hello, Dolly! is such a delightful, colorful, energetic film that, as cynical as a viewer may be, it is hard to believe that he will not find himself so intoxicated by the experience of watching it that he completely loses himself in the director's vibrant fictional world.

Sadly, the movie's leads, Matthau and Streisand, could well be the least charismatic couple paired together in the history of cinema. I will admit that, while I do enjoy Streisand's talents as a singer, I am not a great admirer of her as an actress. There is something about her that always prevents me from being able to involve myself with her characters, including Dolly. Her being paired with the talented but jowly and scowling Matthau, consequently, does little to add to the film's glamor. Nevertheless, Streisand does bring such an abundance of energy and so much musical talent to the role that she is able to imbue her character with a surprising vitality. In fact, even though neither Streisand nor Matthau may be particularly charismatic in the movie, both do acquit themselves well.

Actually, all the cast members give charmingly stylized and wonderfully captivating performances. The supporting actors are especially entertaining to watch and consistently outshine the leads. The romantic adventures of Horace's two errant employees, Cornelius Hackl (Michael Crawford) and Barnaby Tucker (Danny Lockin), with a milliner named Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew) and her assistant, Minnie Fay (E.J. Peaker), are thus both delightful and engaging. The four actors playing these parts are so genuinely appealing that not only do they infuse the scenes in which they appear with a sense of vibrant fun, but they lend the whole movie a marvelous feeling of spellbinding joy.

Such feelings of glee are, by and large, enhanced throughout Hello, Dolly! by the movie's numerous musical numbers. The songs are, with few exceptions, extremely well performed, and the dance sequences are colorful, elaborate, and remarkably fun. That performed by troupes of red coated waiters in an expensive restaurant is particularly entertaining, although it is only marginally better than the numerous other routines with which the movie is filled. Hello, Dolly! is, in fact, alive with its quick succession of musical numbers, almost all of which are absolutely bursting with bright energy. What is more, they are integral to the story itself. Instead of simply being inserted into the narrative, as such numbers often are in musicals, the songs and dances of Hello, Dolly! are used to tell the movie's story and involve the viewer with its characters.

The film's virtues do not, however, end with such performances. Hello, Dolly! is one of the most visually arresting movies I have ever seen. While it is never either subtle or especially refined, it is so filled with bright costumes, fanciful sets, and other fetching images that it is always a joy simply to look at. Kelly has made Hello, Dolly! into a spectacular pageant, a gay, intoxicating, and wonderfully enthralling carnival.

I will not claim that Hello, Dolly! is a masterpiece of Western art, or that it is realized with any great sensitivity, but it is such a delightful, fun movie that the viewer is almost certain to enjoy watching it.

Review by Keith Allen

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