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A matchmaker named Dolly Levi takes a trip to Yonkers, New York to see the "well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire," Horace Vandergelder. While there, she convinces him, his two stock clerks and his niece and her beau to go to New York City. In New York, she fixes Vandergelder's clerks up with the woman Vandergelder had been courting, and her shop assistant (Dolly has designs of her own on Mr. Vandergelder, you see). Written by
Randy Goldberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The strange history of the making of Hello Dolly could make a fine motion picture itself. The feuding between Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau during the filming is well known and documented. The incredible costs of the thing has also become an object lesson for movie producers who are not operating in the days of the studio system and actually have to pay the talent involved what they're worth. It's the biggest reason why musical films are now so few and far between.
But I read a fascinating story in the Citadel Film series book on the films of Gene Kelly who directed Hello Dolly. It seems as though 20th Century Fox after scoring so big with The Sound Of Music decided on buying other big budget Broadway musicals hoping for lightning to strike twice. They bought the rights of Hello Dolly from producer David Merrick with the proviso that the film not be shown until the Broadway run concluded.
So Fox made the film with huge production costs with borrowed money from bankers who wanted their loans paid back as soon as possible. What Merrick did and certainly the demand was there was to keep the show running. Hello Dolly wrapped in early 1968 and was over a year sitting on the shelf not earning a dime. In the meantime the finance boys had to be repaid and with heavy interest.
Fox went to court to get out of the contract and release the film and Merrick did for some hefty financial consideration. By the time Hello Dolly sold its first ticket there was no way it could ever payback the cost. In fact it was the fifth highest grossing film of 1969 and still Fox lost big money on it. In the words of Barnaby Tucker, "Holy Cabooses".
Well they spent big money on it and it shows. The production numbers are expensive, the entire town of Garrison, New York was made up to look like Yonkers at the turn of the last century. The New York scenes were lovely to look at and expensive to the bean counters. And what the biggest musical star of her time commanded in salary ate a lot of that budget as well.
It's a great film that Kelly put together however and certainly Gene Kelly was a man who knew his way around the musical film. Between Streisand and Matthau feuding he must have felt like a referee. But both were professional enough to turn in good performances though the chemistry isn't quite there.
Louis Armstrong's record of the title song is an American classic and it was almost mandatory that he appear in the film. His duet with Barbra Streisand is a piece of cinematic musical history. A fitting end for a man who brought the joy of living to his art and shared it with a grateful world.
Besides the immortal title song Jerry Herman's score has some other gems in it as well. Streisand has one of the best numbers in her career with When The Parade Passes By and young Michael Crawford and Danny Lockin as Matthau's employees sing and dance a storm in It Only Takes A Moment.
I can't finish this review without a word about Danny Lockin who left this earth way too soon the victim of a brutal murder. His performance as Barnaby Tucker is so winning that you can't help a tear coming to your eye when you read about his fate. His dancing reminded a whole lot of Donald O'Connor, I'll bet Donald O'Connor thought so as well if he saw Hello Dolly. He lived a life that convention dictate as a gay man he could not be open about it. The closet eventually killed him, but he left us this wonderful performance to remember him by.
And to you, the late Danny Lockin this review is respectfully dedicated to. Holy Cabooses Danny, I'll bet you're giving Terpsichore a lesson in high stepping.
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