Skip to main content

I’m feeling an updraft in my underpants.

Hello, Dolly!
(1969)

(SPOILERS) Well, I guess Wall•E liked it, so it must have something going for it. Although, that might be to rate Pixar’s prevailing tastes a tad too high. Hello, Dolly! has, so it says here, become one of the most enduring musical theatre hits evah in its stage form. Perhaps its appeal is all in the live experience, then, because, as a movie, it’s a bust. And not even a, bust!

The origins of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s musical date back to John Oxenford’s 1835 English play A Day Well Spent, then turned into a play by Johann Nestroy and then a further play by Thornton Wilder, one he subsequently revised (after the original did diddly-squat business). Notably, Herman’s musicals have been largely resisted by Hollywood. This may have something to do with both Hello, Dolly! and Mame flopping, or it may be that, outside of a devoted and dedicated musical-theatre crowd, they’re a bit rubbish.

It’s easy to argue the tale of an eccentric middle-aged matchmaker – so not Babs’ age at the time – out to get herself hitched to not-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (you know, just like not-billionaire’s daughter Chloe Zhao), while bringing various couples together along the way, lacks that necessary distinctive flavour that prescribes a hit. But you could argue the same of many and various musicals’ elusively appealing subject matter. Certainly, I’d rather sit through this again than the bafflingly feted Funny Girl (although, if pushed not so hard, I’d sooner avoid either repeat visits).

And Hello, Dolly! wasn’t a flop. It only seems like it was, partly because its enduring rep isn’t so hot (in contrast to Funny Girl), but mainly because it cost so damn much that it nearly bankrupted Fox. Again. Since they’d been up that creek with Cleopatra’s wretched carry on less than a decade earlier. Hello, Dolly! wasn’t as expensive, but it made less dough, so the damage was proportionally greater.

Fox had bet the farm, foolishly and cluelessly, on a slew of musicals, in the hope of rekindling that The Sound of Music magic. No such luck. Doctor Dolittle (1967) was a catastrophe, with massive budget overspends on a disastrous production and mammoth amounts of merch no one wanted. It managed nine Oscar nominations, including an acrimonious Best Picture nod in a decade known for such dubious recognition of expensive follies (it won two; song and effects). Star! (1968) outright bombed, despite reteaming The Sound of Music duo of director Robert Wise and star Julie Andrews. It couldn’t even muster a Best Picture nomination (read, buy one), settling for seven noms and no wins.

Hello, Dolly! at least brought in the audiences, since – and this, again, is plausibly my blind spot with regard to Dolly and Funny Girl – Babs was a big draw, and only in her second movie at that. It was the fifth biggest movie of the US year, behind such luminaries as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider and – yes! – The Love Bug. And you can see Streisand is doing her best, attempting to drive a production that resists all her attempts to spark it into life (she later referred to accepting the role as a mistake, as she was much too young for it; Skidoo’s Carol Channing had made the lead a hit on Broadway, and I can completely see how she’d fit).

There’s a constant sense of the material marvelling in its own wit and cleverness yet failing to bring that to play energetically. This is in every sense a mechanical, calculated production, with lots of parts whirring and clicking but none of them producing a satisfying whole. Dolly’s self-belief should be much more infectious than it is, yet she seems to be operating in a vacuum. There’s zero chemistry with Walter Matthau’s Vandergelder, and if it seems like they’re acting in completely different spaces to each other, that would be because Matthau detested Streisand. Matthau’s inimitably grouchy, as you’d expect, but there’s no real pleasure from his drollery here. There’s certainly no chance you’re rooting for them to end up together. At best, you’ll shrug.

Of the rest of the cast, Louis Armstrong shares a number with Streisand, and Scatman Crothers can be briefly seen as a porter. None of the young romantics make much impression beside Michael Crawford, who previews some of his Frank Spencer mannerisms in full flourish and only later learned that director Gene Kelly had to fight to prevent his singing voice being dubbed; Matthau also reputedly stopped talking to Crawford after the latter won a bet on a horse named Dolly, so vehemently did he disdain the movie’s Dolly. Danny Lockin, who had appeared in the stage version and for whom this would be his last movie role, met an extremely unpleasant end less than a decade later.

None of the songs are very memorable. The dialogue, as mentioned, thinks a lot of itself, of the sort designed for audience participation (perhaps there should have been a canned laugh track). Ernest Lehman both furnished the screenplay and produced, and with three-for-three on the musical front (The King and I, West Side Story, The Sound of Music) he likely had good cause to feel confident in the project. Plus, the success of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, on which he first pulled double duties, may have gone to his head somewhat (subsequently, he would pull triple duties on Portnoy’s Complaint, which duly crashed and burned).

Gene Kelly likely wasn’t the ideal director either. Most of Kelly’s directorial outings had made a loss, following his early hits (On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain). He had, however, directed bedroom-farce A Guide for the Married Man with Matthau a couple of years before, which did okay. Kelly knew his way around choreography and capturing it to advantage with the camera. There’s a lovely little foot-following opening shot that suggests something more personal and intimate than the gargantuan production this will quickly become, but the big sequences escape him.

The prodiguous parade scene is emblematic of the picture’s hollow expense; the logistics may be impressive, but it adds nothing but empty dollars to Fox’s bill. I noted, however that Vandergelder may in part attribute his financial success to membership of Lodge 26, Knights of the Hudson, with whom he is marching.

Pauline Kael’s review is evidence of the Babs factor on a viewer; she readily confessed to the picture’s numerous faults but was also besotted with Streisand and worshipping at her altar, so attesting to her transformative effect on the material. I can’t see that, I’m afraid. Hello, Dolly! is far from jolly, and most definitely goes down as a grand folly.


Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

Three. Two. One. Lift with your neck.

Red Notice  (2021) (SPOILERS) Red Notice rather epitomises Netflix output. Not the 95% that is dismissible, subgrade filler no one is watching but is nevertheless churned out as original “content”. No, this would be the other, more select tier constituting Hollywood names and non-negligible budgets. Most such fare still fails to justify its existence in any way, shape or form, singularly lacking discernible quality control or “studio” oversight. Albeit, one might make similar accusations of a selection of legit actual studio product too, but it’s the sheer consistency of unleavened movies that sets Netflix apart. So it is with Red Notice . Largely lambasted by the critics, in much the manner of, say 6 Underground or Army of the Dead , it is in fact, and just like those, no more and no less than okay.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

What about the panties?

Sliver (1993) (SPOILERS) It must have seemed like a no-brainer. Sharon Stone, fresh from flashing her way to one of the biggest hits of 1992, starring in a movie nourished with a screenplay from the writer of one of the biggest hits of 1992. That Sliver is one Stone’s better performing movies says more about how no one took her to their bosom rather than her ability to appeal outside of working with Paul Verhoeven. Attempting to replicate the erotic lure of Basic Instinct , but without the Dutch director’s shameless revelry and unrepentant glee (and divested of Michael Douglas’ sweaters), it flounders, a stupid movie with vague pretensions to depth made even more stupid by reshoots that changed the killer’s identity and exposed the cluelessness of the studio behind it. Philip Noyce isn’t a stupid filmmaker, of course. He’s a more-than-competent journeyman when it comes to Hollywood blockbuster fare ( Clear and Present Danger , Salt ) also adept at “smart” smaller pict