Lavish and overproduced is a very good way to describe the 1969 screen version of the Broadway hit HELLO, DOLLY! ($15). However an even better way of describing this film is as a visually brilliant achievement in musical cinema. There is no denying that HELLO, DOLLY! has its detractors- those who complain about everything from Barbra Streisand being too young for the lead role, to Walter Matthauís tone deafness, to the movie being too long and needlessly bloated. Now, I have seen this particular movie at least a dozen times, and have to admit that its flaws become less noticeable every time I watch it.
In fact, Iíve gotten to the point where I have become mesmerized by Gene Kellyís direction HELLO, DOLLY!, which is an absolute triumph of camera work, huge set pieces and artistic composition. And because of Kellyís visual brilliance, it becomes easier and easier for one to marvel in the beauty and athleticism of Michael Kiddís glorious choreography. On top of that, is the filmís astonishing production design and costumes, which bring the 1880s to life, not only trough intricate sets, but also on superb outdoor locations. With all that said, its easy to see the artistic merits of HELLO, DOLLY! and why I feel that this movie would have probably faired much better with audiences and critics alike, had it not been released at a time when musicals had fallen out of step with popular tastes.
HELLO, DOLLY! is a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilderís The Matchmaker, which tells the story of New York marriage broker and all around entrepreneur, Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand), who makes a trip to Yonkers to see to the affairs of one Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau). Vandergelder, a prominent Yonkers businessman, has hired Dolly to find him a suitable wife and to keep his niece Ermengarde (Joyce Ames) from marrying an artist named Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune). Although Dolly has already made a "social introduction" between Vandergelder and Miss Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew) of NYC, the matchmaker has determined that Horace should marry someone entirely different. So, in the course of a single day, Dolly sets in motion a plan to steer things towards a more suitable conclusion for everyone including herself, Ermengarde, Irene Molloy and Vandergelderís put upon chief clerk Cornelius Hackl (Michael Crawford), who at the ripe old age of twenty-eight and three quarters, has yet to kiss a girl. The cast of HELLO, DOLLY! also features Danny Lockin, E.J. Peaker, Judy Knaiz, David Hurst, Fritz Feld, Richard Collier, J. Pat O'Malley and Louis Armstrong.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made HELLO, DOLLY! available on DVD in an utterly superb 2.20:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. HELLO, DOLLY! has never looked this good in the home venue, and for that reason, the folks at Fox truly deserve the resounding praise of movie buffs everywhere for bringing Harry Stradlingís glorious cinematography back up to its full luster. The image on the DVD is truly spectacular; appearing crisp and so beautifully defined that one can truly appreciate the intricate details of the filmís incredible production design and period costumes. Additionally, the fact that HELLO, DOLLY! was a 70mm production, the picture also demonstrates a wonderful sense of dimensionality.
Colors appear so rich and vibrant that one would swear they were attending an opening day screening of a new movie, as opposed to watching one that is nearly thirty-five years old. Reds are truly glorious and threaten to pop off the screen, as do many of the other highly saturated hues. Despite their intensity, the colors always have rock solid stability. Blacks are velvety, whites are crisp and shadow detail is excellent for a vintage film. The film element utilized for the transfer displays very few signs of age and only the most minor of blemishes. Digital compression artifacts are always completely camouflaged.
Despite the claims of the DVDís packaging HELLO, DOLLY! comes with a Dolby Digital 4.0 channel soundtrack and not stereo surround. The sound is big, brassy and a wonderful example of circa 1969 stereo recording at its best. Sure, it isnít in the same league as todayís finest digital soundtracks, but for its age, it sounds absolutely marvelous. The musical numbers come across solidly and Streisandís voice packs a punch on the track. Matthauís vocals on his one musical number have a good deal of comic charm, and fortunately, donít grate on anyoneís eardrums. All of the other vocals sound delightful and the orchestrations have good clarity and range for their age. Dialogue is always crisp and completely understandable. French and Spanish monaural tracks are also provided, as are English and Spanish subtitles. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a 1969 behind-the-scenes featurette, theatrical trailer and bonus trailers.
As a fan of HELLO, DOLLY!, perhaps I donít see the filmís flaws as keenly as its detractors. For that reason, I am more readably able to marvel at the filmís visual brilliance and its incredibly lavish production values and marvelous choreography. Fox has done a phenomenal job with the filmís presentation on DVD, thus making the disc a must have for fans and movie musical buffs.
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