Before watching the movie:
I’m sure there are other movies that reach this level of substanceless fame, and probably ones that I’ve reviewed here before, but while I know I’ve reviewed well-known movies nobody actually seems to discuss the content of before, I can’t think of one so big yet so mysterious.
I roughly know its time period, but mainly because Wall-E used some clips. Otherwise, it’s somehow the codifier of what a classic musical film is, to the point that it’s taken as a generic for “musical”. But it’s theoretically in that position because it’s good and because it’s influential. But the mold got overused and eventually musicals started defying it. Later on Broadway reinvented Disney reinvented Broadway, but that’s beyond the scope of a review of Hello, Dolly!
After watching the movie:
Renowned through the region around New York City, professional matchmaker/meddler Dolly Levi has been lately employed by “half-a-millionaire” Yonkers feed store owner Horace Vandergelder to try to find him a wife, since he feels he’s come to a point in his life where he can’t advance any more and may as well do something foolish. But more importantly, he intends to have his niece married off soon (though not to the penniless artist she loves), and then he’ll need someone to do the housework for him. Horace takes the day off to go to New York City to propose to the hat shop owner Irene Molloy, but Dolly has plans to get Horace to marry her instead, and suggests to the clerks Horace left running his store that if they’re going to close up and seek excitement in the big city, they should call on Irene and her shop assistant.
It’s certainly not going to be surprise to find a movie from the sixties holding values that are uncomfortable now, especially one set decades previous. But it’s hard to say how much of Horace’s views on marriage are because he’s a grumpy middle aged miser who’s being set up to learn better and how much are being endorsed. The women in the story actually take as much agency as they can come by in the society they come by, particularly Dolly, who manages to be an independent, outgoing adult woman everyone respects. Additionally, Louis Armstrong gets a solo verse in a song, which at this point just makes me realize how he’s the only non-white person in the entire film.
I get the sense that Dolly and Horace are supposed to be the primary plot, but the truant clerks on the town with the hat store ladies seem to take more narrative attention. It could perhaps be that my perspective is slanting my interest toward the younger couples and away from the middle-aged pair. Cornelius is after all 28 ¾, which is a matter of months older than me. But I don’t think it’s just that. It’s never not fun to watch Walter Matthau grump and Barbara Streisand vamp, but the characters don’t seem well matched.
Most of the songs are reasonably well-paced, but the middle dragged in general and particularly the parade and the title number, both of which are very appropriate places to put extra production value into, felt like interminable stops to the show, as someone who came to be told a story. This is my eternal beef with stage musicals: the number that’s there only for music and dancing that the story wouldn’t miss in the slightest.
This show is certainly fun, but I’m not sure it has much in the way of making it really meaningful or worthwhile aside from the fun and spectacle. Which is true of a lot of popular musicals, but is particularly true here. It’s pure fluff, but it’s candy fluff.
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