Hello, Dolly!
Director: Gene Kelly. Cast: Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford, Danny Lockin, Marianne McAndrew, E.J. Peaker, Tommy Tune, Joyce Ames, Judy Knaiz, Louis Armstrong, David Hurst. Screenplay: Ernest Lehman (based on the musical show Hello, Dolly!, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, itself adapted from the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder).

The title of Barbra Streisand's opening number in Hello, Dolly! is "Just Leave Everything to Me," and boy, does everybody listen. If she weren't around to inject energy, capability, and irrepressible talent to this white elephant of a musical—not to mention, of course, healthy amounts of shameless hamming and gratuitous vocal coloratura—the whole enterprise would feel even more tedious and deficient than it does. The same claim can (and should) be made about Funny Girl, the outsized and overreaching vehicle that Barbra single-handedly redeemed into watchability in 1968, the year before Hello, Dolly! was released. But whereas Fanny Brice was a genuine showcase role, accommodating and celebrating every vaudevillian instinct and operatic ambition that Barbra Streisand could uniquely lend it, Dolly Levi is just a two-dimensional archetype; where Funny Girl had a real-life story to tell (plodding though it was) and a legendary director trying to tell it, Hello, Dolly! has its same-old flimsy score to put over on us and a director, Gene Kelly, whose desire to entertain us has not always guaranteed discerning project choices.

And believe me, Hello, Dolly! is a lot closer to Xanadu than it is to Singin' in the Rain. The movie is simultaneously overdirected and undernourished, too much of an okay thing and too obviously nothing at all. Dolly first emerges from a "studiously" recreated set of New York City, circa 1890, and already she's fighting for attention with a gigantic set and with her own ostentatious costume. It says everything about Gene Kelly's priorities and costumer Irene Sharaff's exhibitionist tendencies that we're introduced to Dolly's shoes and hat before we see her face. Because the musical numbers are all scaled somewhere on the spectrum of overstuffed grandiosity, what fun there is in Dolly obtains mostly in Streisand's loopy line readings—a real comic aplomb that her recent near-desertion of acting has made harder to remember—or else in the kinesthetic leaps and bounds in famed choreographer Michael Kidd's dance routines. On the other hand, the explosive effusion that characterizes even these stray highlights—zany comic banter, waiters somersaulting over champagne buckets—just reminds us that Hello, Dolly! is driven at all times, except in its feeble story structure, by the credo of More Is More.

The effect is not to delight the audience with exuberant abundance (in the manner of Moulin Rouge) but to telegraph all too clearly that Hello, Dolly's actors, designers, and director alike are perpetually straining to compensate for a show with no dramatic center, no sense of economy, no forward momentum. Watch Hello, Dolly! in close succession to, say, The Sound of Music, and the latter film's elegant editing and harmonious visual schemes are all the more conspicuous. Watch even a film like Cukor's My Fair Lady, not the most dynamic of stage-to-screen adaptations, and observe how even its most lavishly static set-pieces (the Day at the Races, etc.) confine themselves to a few key colors, a controlled range of musical notes, a spoofish self-awareness of all the outrageous get-up. Hello, Dolly! lacks both of these crucial elements: wit and restraint. Instead, it flits forever among major and minor keys, from gaudy closeups to gaseous zoom-outs, between weird pathos about a dead husband and the spastic slapstick of Michael Crawford, in his pre-Phantom of the Opera days, as a discombobulated suitor. And rarely has a musical sounded so awful, with location microphones blent indiscriminately with studio-recorded songs and flagrantly post-dubbed dialogue elements. The star of Hello, Dolly! deserved far better than this and, more to the point, so does its audience. D+


Academy Award Nominations and Winners:
Best Picture
Best Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Best Art Direction: John DeCuir, Jack Martin Smith, and Herman A. Blumenthal; Walter M. Scott, George James Hopkins, and Raphael Bretton
Best Costume Design: Irene Sharaff
Best Film Editing: William Reynolds
Best Musical Score (Original/Adaptation): Lennie Hayton & Lionel Newman
Best Sound: Jack Solomon & Murray Spivack

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Best Director: Gene Kelly
Best Actress (Musical/Comedy): Barbra Streisand
Best Supporting Actress: Marianne McAndrew
Most Promising Newcomer (Female): Marianne McAndrew

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