Sunday, May 17, 2009

5/14/09: The Matchmaker (1958)

Based on Thornton Wilder's 1955 play (itself based on several earlier plays, including Wilder's own The Merchant of Yonkers), The Matchmaker is a funny and farcical turn-of-the-century comedy featuring Shirley "Hazel" Booth as Dolly Levi, the character who would go on to be the centerpiece of the stage musical and movie Hello Dolly. Although satisfactorily amusing, it does seem fairly astonishing that this small-scale story has flourished in so many incarnations—especially as transformed into the huge-in-every-way Hello Dolly, one of the world's most famous musicals. (I haven't seen Dolly yet, but it's on my list.)

Dolly Levi is the aging matchmaker who "tries" to find a hot young wife for grumpy store owner Horace Vandergelder (Paul Ford, The Music Man's Mayor Shinn), when it's really herself she's trying to sell in that capacity; one of the potential spouses (beautiful Shirley MacLaine) has eyes for Vandergelder's clerk (Anthony Perkins, quite convincing as a heterosexual). That's it in a nutshell. A pre-How to Succeed in Business Robert Morse is around as Perkins' co-worker for the occasional quip—he's the only one of the original Broadway cast to reprise his role for the film. It's cute and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny...but how does this all work with a 27-year-old Barbra Streisand in the lead role? I can't wait to discover that for myself. Rating: 4/5.

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