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Featured Blu-ray Review: Hello, Dolly!

April 18th, 2013

Hello, Dolly! - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Hello, Dolly! was one of the biggest films that came out in 1969, both in terms of box office numbers and Oscar glory. Unfortunately, it was also one of the biggest films in terms of production budget, so it was not a financial success at the time. In fact, it helped kill the major movie musical and nearly killed the studio. Did it fail to live up to expectations because of when it was released? (Not only was the Broadway show still a major hit, movie musicals were waning in popularity.) Or would it have struggled no matter what? Does it work today?

The Movie

The film begins in New York City in 1890 and we are quickly introduced to Mrs. Dolly Levi, a widow to spends her days acting as a matchmaker. She's off to Yonkers to help a Horace Vandergelder, the unmarried half-a-millionaire; however, she plans to marry him herself. Horace, meanwhile, is trying to stop a marriage between his niece, Ermengarde (Joyce Ames) and Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune). The pair are in love, but Ambrose is an artist and Horace is convinced he won't be able to earn enough money as an artist to provide a decent life for Ermengarde. He tells Ambrose that Dolly Levi is on her way to take Ermengarde to New York City. He also plans to go to New York City. He's got his eye on a woman, Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew) and hopes to marry her. He doesn't know about Dolly Levi's plan, obviously. Before leaving, he tells the two clerks, Cornelius Hackl (Michael Crawford) and Barnaby Tucker (Danny Lockin), a.k.a. Impertinent Fool and Idiot Apprentice, that they are in charge while he's gone.

Just as Horace prepares to leave, Dolly arrives. He mentions his plan to marry Irene, but that barely slows down Dolly and soon she has a plan to ruin Horace's plan. She also has to deal with Ermengarde ... anyone else read that name and think of, "Ermahgerd! Gersberms" ... Just me? Okay. ... She also has to deal with Ermengarde. She plans to take Ermengarde to New York City, which she is being paid to do, but bring Ambrose along, so the pair can win money in a Polka contest and therefore get married. That doesn't seem like a viable plan. Meanwhile, Cornelius and Barnaby decide they should go to New York City as well. Cornelius has a plan. He will make a improvised stink bomb to drive away the customers and the pair will head off to New York City and live for once. Dolly overhears their plans and Barnaby fears they are busted. However, she doesn't want to get them in trouble. In fact, she wants to use them as part of her plans to sabotage Horace, so she can have him herself.

A song and dance number later and we are in New York City with Irene Molloy and her friend, Minnie Fay (E. J. Peaker). They begin talking about Horace and whether or not she will marry him. It seems to come down to health wealth and the fact that she hates running a hat shop. They open the shop and it isn't long before Cornelius and Barnaby walk in. Cornelius decides that they should pretend to be rich. That way they won't have to spend any of their money.

With that, all the lies are in place and it is just a matter of watching Mrs. Dolly Levi's plans come to fruition.

Hello, Dolly! is a spectacle, there's no doubt about that. It cost $24 million to make back in 1968. By comparison, Cleopatra was made five years earlier and cost a then-record $44 million. If you adjust for inflation, this film's production budget is $150 million to $175 million. Ouch. Granted, the film does look great and it is no surprise it earned Oscar nominations in several technical categories, including wins for Best Sound, Best Score, and Best Art Direction. However, the film's strength are clearly in its technical presentation, because there are some serious issues with the rest of the film.

In the original play / Broadway musical, Mrs. Dolly Levi was an older woman whose husband died and left her poor. In the movie, she's played by Barbra Streisand. I have a hard time believing she was a widow who needed to con her way into marriage. I also had a hard time believing she was interested in Horace Vandergelder for any reason, other than his money. This makes her character far less sympathetic, while it kills the chemistry between the two leads. (There were also behind-the-scenes issues that negatively affected the chemistry.) That's not to say the two are not good individually. Walter Matthau gives the best performance in the movie, while Barbra Streisand is the best singer out of the main cast. It is just that when they are together, I don't feel any romance. The main two side romances between Ermengarde & Ambrose and Irene & Cornelius are only slightly better, but this means the film, which is a romantic musical, really lacks romance. There are plenty of songs, some of which are classics, but unless you care more about the music than the story, it's not enough. Then again, for many fans of the genre, this is the case.

The Extras

There are two featurettes on the Blu-ray. The first is an 11-minute look at Gene Kelly, who directed the movie. There are also seven-minutes of behind-the-scenes footage.

The technical presentation is great, amazing even, which is important as the look and sound of the film is what sells it the most. The restoration process was incredible. The level of details is fantastic while the colors are absolutely stunning. There are no instances of print damage, which is amazing for a film that's more than 40 years old. The audio is nearly as good. There are a few minor problems that reveal the film's age, while the surround sound speakers are not as active as they should be. Still, it is very good and a big step up from the DVD.

The Verdict

I'm not a fan of musicals, so my opinion of Hello, Dolly! might not hold a lot of weight. I didn't buy the central romance, so I wasn't drawn into the movie. Also, the Blu-ray doesn't have a lot of extras, which is a shame. On the other hand, the technical presentation is fantastic and if you are a fan of the movie, it is worth the upgrade.

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Filed under: Video Review, Hello, Dolly, Gene Kelly, Walter Matthau, Barbra Streisand