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Monday, November 25, 2013

'The Matchmaker:' DVD: 'Hello Dolly' without the Song and Dance

The Matchmaker
One of numerous entertaining aspects of watching Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1958 comedy "The Matchmaker" is anticipating the absent musical numbers from the film version of "Hello Dolly," which is based on this movie based on a play by Thornton Wilder. Further, thinking of fellow Wilder classic "Our Town" prompts thoughts of several "buying the farm" jokes.

Like "Dolly," "Matchmaker" largely focuses on separate "grand days out" in turn-of-the-century New York for Yonkers store owner Horace  Vandergelder and his two young clerks Cornelius and Barnaby. Cornelius' numerous references to not coming home until he kisses a girl is one of many occasions in "Matchmaker" on which one anticipates hearing the orchestra starting up and the singing and dancing commencing.

The titular Dolly is widow/matchmaker Dolly "Gallagher" Levi, who strives to ensure that each boy ends up with the proper girl. Her arrival at the famed Harmonia Gardens restaurant, which is based on real-life Manhattan fine dining establishment Luchows, creates an even stronger anticipation of an even more iconic musical number from "Dolly."

"Matchmaker" also goes one step beyond "Town" in breaking down the fourth wall by having the characters address the movie theater audience ala the Woody Allen film "The Purple Rose of Cairo" to the point that Cornelius starts macing on the females in said audience and other characters comment on the activity of going to a movie theater.

This interactive technique is very sweetly and nicely incorporated in the film's final moments, which include a fade out that is reminiscent of uber-classic '60s sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies."

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Matchmaker's" trailer does a great job portraying these fun elements while keeping spoilers to a minimum. It it also fun to see this promo predict stardom for Shirley MacLaine, who plays Irene Molloy.

Comparing the "Matchmaker" and "Dolly" casts is another fun aspect of the former.

"Hazel's" Shirley Booth strongly channels that '60s sitcom character while portraying Levi. Both characters are equally lovingly meddlesome and just as assertive and stubborn regarding doing what is best for someone even when that person seems intent on not acting according to his or her own best interest. As an aside, the fifth and final season of "Hazel" is being released in January 2014.

"Dolly's" Barbara Streisand predictably adds more of a diva element to her portrayal of Levi.

Character actor Paul Ford (who is arguably best known for playing Col. Hall on "The Phil Silvers Show," does a good job as Horace in "Matchmaker") but Walter Matthau better captures the character in "Dolly." Matthau simply is more age appropriate for the role and brings more energy to it.

A wider gap exists regarding "Psycho's" Anthony Perkins as Cornelius in "Matchmaker" and "Phantom of the Opera's" Michael Crawford in that role in "Dolly." The role of a gangly frustrated and bullied young man seems tailor-made for Perkins even without the homicidal tendencies of Norman Bates in "Psycho."

There also is absolutely no comparison between the bright-eyed adorable performance by Robert Morse as Barnaby in "Matchmaker" and Danny Lockin, whose only other real IMDb credit is a guest spot on '60s sitcom "My Three Sons," in "Dolly." Morse of course of course  (no typo) has gone on to many other roles, including that of Bertram Cooper in "Mad Men."

The grande finale to this review is a standard reprise of its first paragraph. "Matchmaker" is an awesome comedy that provides a nearly 60 year-old fresh slant on a classic musical comedy. It can fairly be said that, but for the greatness of "Matchmaker," "Dolly" would never have seen the light of day.

Anyone with questions regarding "Matchmaker," "Dolly," Thornton Wilder, or hilarious "buy the farm" jokes is welcome to email me. Please also feel free to reach out on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.