Barnaby, You Don't Know Anything About Women: Hello, Dolly! (1969)

I have watched a lot of musicals this month and still have a few more to look into, but I am rather certain that Hello, Dolly! will prove to be the example of all of the possible elements of a good musical layered into one brilliant epic number, all helmed by the poised and focused delivery of entertainer extraordinaire Barbra Streisand.  This, however, is only one of the contributing factors to this film as it possesses comedy, drama and enough toe-tapping musical numbers to make even the most anti-musical of viewers want to get out of their seat and dance around, hell I even found myself swaying to the music occasionally.  If any of these elements cannot manage to get the cold hearted cinephile to leap with joy, the inclusion of a singing Walter Matthau is certainly the swelling and inspiring factor of cinematic perfection.  While I might come away from this month with an understanding of Busby Berkeley still being the premier director of movie musicals, followed in a very close second by the eccentric works of Bob Fosse, then I would consider Hello, Dolly!, directed by noted performer Gene Kelly who has made multiple appearances this month on the blog, the actor turned director of the genre.  While wholly different films in theme, tone and appearance, one could suggest that Kelly's transition from actor to director that occurs here in Hello, Dolly! takes on a level of intensity tantamount to that of Charles Laughton going from actor to director of The Night of the Hunter, although the latter does have the notable one and done nature that gives it a mythic sense of scale.  Regardless, Hello, Dolly! is nothing short of a musical at its most ambitious and realized, moving in a sweeping manner through its lengthy runtime, but still leaving a sense of wonderment throughout and a wish that the tim could hold on for just a bit longer, because between the comedic timing of the various actors, a few music interludes that include at least one delightful cameo by Louis Armstrong and what has to be the highlight of Streisand's career, Hello, Dolly! from its opening frames melts into exuberant existence for all to enjoy.

Set in 1890's New York, Hello, Dolly! focuses on a group of upper middle class individuals navigating the spaces of socialite dinners and engagements of marriage and prosperity, most notably with the endeavors of one Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) a tailor and textile aficionado who has long overlooked the necessity of settling down and getting married, admitting the need for a "dainty" woman in his life for composures sake.  While he has his eye on a milliner named Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew) it is a woman from his past named Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand) who seems more interested in accruing his affections after the passing of her late husband.  Using her charm and guile, Dolly convinces Horace to take his time in approaching Irene for her hand, while she simultaneously introduces Irene and her coworker Minnie Fay (E.J. Peaker) to Horace's young apprentices Barnaby Tucker (Danny Lockin) and Cornelius Hackl (Michael Crawford) hoping that their wide-eyed charm will prove just the trick in getting the group to move their affections away from Horace onto their own goals, ones that allow for Dolly to plant the seed of desire in the stoic, but often misguided Horace.  Of course, the narrative plays this entire endeavor out in grand form, involving a variety of parades and dinners with which Dolly must come to odds with her lavish past, one that includes the adoration of Rudolph Reisenweber (David Hurst) and a vast array of other well-to-do individuals, all evidence when she arrives to much spectacle at the man's home and is in an honored guest during dinner.  Furthermore, Barnaby and Cornelius are not exactly forthright in their affections and need prodding and poking to become intimate with Irene and Minnie, eventually needing the women to make the advances, much in the same vein as Dolly is proving to be the instigator in her impending relationship with Horace.  While Horace flails to keep his dignity in tact as it becomes apparent his ways are becoming antiquated, fully evidenced by his nephew Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune) outright refusing to listen to his advice and the opening of a new tailor shop by his former employees, he has no choice but to concede to marrying Dolly.  The brilliance being that Dolly never once suggested the reality, instead hinting at it subliminally or allowing for misdirection to work in a layered form.

This movie is grand in scope and no musical number is short or half realized.  Indeed the film has a rather lengthy ten minute opening song and dance bit before viewers are even given a title card.  This is in line with the genre, but even in this context the breadth and length of such performances are exceptionally long.  While it is arguably the case for every musical, I would suggest that the length of time devoted to performance within Hello, Dolly! is intended to extend the metaphor of performing social responsibilities, here referring to ones involving dating and advancing an agenda of marriage.  Take for example, the initial performance of "I Need A Dainty Woman" by Walter Matthau's Horace. The stoic man whose refusal to speak at any length in the non-singing portions of the narrative, is juxtaposed with his marching and tonal shifting--albeit comedically--while singing this song.  Pairing this with a rather extensive use of the tropes of musical genre, allow for the entire song to speak length to what Horace knows he must do socially to accrue such a woman, yet his reluctance to do so is reflected by his musical numbers existing in the space of marching with other, affirming his own retreating back into masculine singularity as an ideal.  It is not until the closing moments when the song is reappropriated to refer to his newly formed relationship with Dolly that it is moved into a space of a large outdoor dancehall.  The performance is newly situated.  Even other songs like the title song, take on this performative layered level as Dolly must navigate a social space where she is both adored and must learn to navigate her adoration with care and poise.  However, it is wholly the fifteen plus minute dinner service seen that uses narrative performance through the musical to its most extensive and realized.  Cleverly juxtaposed with the ideals of social etiquette, Horace's own suspicions about Dolly's motivations and the attempts by Barnaby and Cornelius to escape the judgement of lower class status, the spectacle of flipping and leaping waiters and demanding patrons is evidence of a director whose own work in front of the camera is of decided note to his ability to impose grand visions onto film.

Key Scene:  Did I mention flipping waiters and flying chicken dinners yet?

This movie is worth your time and is certainly easily accessible via Netflix and other sources.

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