Original better than remake
"Tee" | 06/25/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Matchmaker" is the basis for the musical "Hello Dolly," and this film is far better than Gene Kelly's or Gower Champion's musical version, if you can live without the lavish production numbers and Barbra Streisand. A far more amusing and professional ensemble cast, doing a fine adaptation of Thornton Wilder's bright, insightful play. Not that I dislike Walter Matthau, mind you, it's just that I like Paul Ford better in this role. Buy it if you can find it."
LIVELY COMEDY SET IN 19th CENTURY OLD NEW YORK
"Tee" | LA | 06/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The wonderful stage actress Shirley Booth (later the star of Tv's HAZEL) became a late blooming movie star in the 1950's, winning the Best Actress Oscar for 1952's COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA in her film debut at age 54 (although even at her "authorized" age of 45 she was a good bit past most actresses of the period in the first films). Legendary film producer Hal B. Wallis produced three additional film vehicles for Miss Booth but while ABOUT MRS. LESLIE (1954) was quite good and THE HOT SPELL (1958) was somewhat uneven, the final Wallis/Booth movie THE MATCHMAKER (1958) hit the bullseye.
Based on Thornton Wilder's famous stage comedy that in a few years that would be musicalized as HELLO DOLLY, THE MATCHMAKER stars Booth as Dolly Levi, a middle-aged butt-in-ski who earns a little extra coin trying to arrange romances for the wealthiest man in Yonkers, cross general store owner Paul Ford. Ford's current fancying young hatmaker Shirley MacLaine of New York seems to throw a wrench into Miss Booth's services so she concocts one Ernestine Simple, a young woman in a photograph with the body of a showgirl and the soul of Betty Crocker, with frugality to match Ford ("why all she ever eats is apples and lettuce," Dolly chimes laying on the hard sell in a hilarious sequence.) Ford is off in a heartbeat to meet this phanthom pinup with Dolly as his escort, leaving overworked sales clerks Anthony Perkins and Robert Morse to run the store. Perkins and Morse decide instead to close shop and sneak off to New York themselves for a rare chance at freedom and to achieve their goals of kissing a girl. Who is the first girl the boys happen to meet, why Ford's young quasi-fiance MacLaine, whom Perkins immediately takes a shine to and the feeling is mutual. But while Ford is determined to wine and dine the invisible Miss Simple he's still out to court Miss MacLaine as well much to the exasperation not only of Perkins but Shirley Booth, who not so secretly wants Ford for herself.
This delightful comedy has plenty of hearty laughs and a fantastic cast and is particularly noteworthy for the characters frequently breaking through the "wall" and directly talking to the film audience even referring to the very movie itself (and the story is set in 1883, a good decade before movie cameras were even invented!). This risky bit works beautifully and helps draw the viewer into the story as if they themselves were a character in the tale.
The DVD print is fantastic although there are regrettably no extras. Shirley Booth is utterly endearing as the busy body who does her best to make life "exciting" who while deep into middle-age and with several extra pounds takes pride that she "ain't exactly a mud fence" to look at. A major revelation in the film is young Anthony Perkins, best remembered for his PYSCHO roles but here showing the boyishly bashful charm that made him enormous popular with young girls and movie magazine readers in the late 1950's. This is a delightful romantic comedy that fully captures the spirit of Thorton Wilder's writings and will likely be enjoyed by all who see it."
Fabulous DVD transfer!
Brian Judge | Washington DC | 10/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This has always been a fun film -- so much more lively than than the deadly Hello Dolly with the laughably miscast Barbra Streisand. But the good news is that the transfer to DVD is stunning! The black-and-white VistaVision photography is sharp as hell, wonderful to watch on my large 16x9 TV. Paramount was obviously working with a high-quality master. This is terrific DVD at a great price -- buy it, buy it! What a gem."
Memorable Performances and Tremendous Charm
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 01/16/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The history of THE MATCHMAKER is quite interesting from an academic point of view. In 1835 English playwright and drama critic created a one-act play titled A DAY WELL SPENT, a lightweight comedy of mismatched lovers, mistaken identities, and foolish misbehavior. In 1842 Austrian playwright and actor Johann Nestroy developed Oxenford's work into a full-length comedy titled EINEN JUX WILL ER SICH MACHEN, which was (and remains) very popular in German-language theatre. American writer and scholar Thornton Wilder came to the material in the 1930s--and in 1938 returned the story to the English language under the title THE MERCHANT OF YONKERS. It was an instant disaster, receiving incredibly dire reviews and running all of 39 performances in its New York debut.
It was quite a setback for Wilder, who had previously won Pulitzers for the novel THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY and the play OUR TOWN. Even so, actress Ruth Gordon and Tyrone Guthrie strongly felt the play was sound, and in the 1950s both began to pressure Wilder to rework his script. With Gordon starring and Guthrie directing, and with the title changed to THE MATCHMAKER, it opened on Broadway in 1955--and was a smash hit. It attracted the attention of Hollywood, and in 1958 it became a vehicle for Tony and Academy Award-winning actress Shirley Booth.
The film version alters Wilder's script quite a bit, and not always for the better, occasionally over-reaching itself in a grab for broad farce; all the same, it does manage to capture the innate charm of the original. Much of this is due to Shirley Booth. Although she is not well recalled today, she was easily among the finest actresses of her era, and her performance here is a warm and glowing jewel, clever, witty, and very gently sly. The remaining cast follows suit--and what a cast it is! Memorable character actors Paul Ford, Perry Wilson, and Wallace Ford; rising stars Anthony Perkins and Shirley MacLaine; and even a very young Robert Morse. Few films can lay claim to an equally gifted line up. The production values are also quite fine, capturing the charm of the 1880s without recourse to the gaudy edge one so often sees in films set in that period.
The story itself is equally beguiling. Miserly businessman Horace Vandergelder (Paul Ford) is eager to marry and employs professional busy-body Dolly Levi (Shirley Booth) to fix him up--but when he takes the day off to visit prospective bride Irene Malloy (MacLaine) his two clerks (Perkins and Morse) follow suit. A series of chance encounters bring all concerned together--and with a little not-so-gentle nudging from Dolly, Vandergelder makes the discovery that the matchmaker herself is his own perfect match. If all this sounds a bit familar, it should, for THE MATCHMAKER had yet another, slightly later incarnation: with music by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart, it became HELLO, DOLLY!, one of Broadway's most celebrated musicals, which itself reached the screen in 1969.
There is nothing in the way of bonus materials--a tremendous pity given the astonishing cast--but the DVD does offer the film in near-pristine transfer, and while THE MATCHMAKER doesn't quite rise to the level of the stage play's spark, it is nonetheless a gentle, amusing, and extremely well performed film, an overlooked gem from late-1950s Hollywood.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer"