The MatchmakerPosted: November 21, 2011
As promised, here’s another movie review: 1958’s “The Matchmaker”, based on the play on Thornton Wilder, which would later become the Broadway show and the musical Hello, Dolly! At its center is Dolly Gallagher Levi (Shirley Booth), a widow who makes her living as a matchmaker. She’s hired by Horace Vandergelder (Paul Ford), a rich but miserly merchant, to find him a wife, but Dolly has set her eyes on Vandergelder herself. When Vandergelder and Dolly go to New York to meet his intended, the young milliner Irene Molloy (Shirley MacLaine), Vandergelder’s head clerk Cornelius Hackl (Anthony Perkins) and his sidekick Barnaby Tucker (Robert Morse) decide to play truant and go to New York too. Cornelius becomes smitten with Irene, and hilarity ensues as the two parties’ paths collide.
I’ve never seen the musical (all I know of it is what I’ve seen in WALL-E), but having read Thornton Wilder’s other works, I’m sure that this version is the one closest to the original material. It has all the elements of a classic farce – slapstick gags, mistaken identities, and breaking of the fourth wall as the characters directly address the audience (my favorite is Cornelius’ opening line: “Are you alone? He’s out getting you popcorn?!” But I watched this movie for Tony Perkins so of course he’s my favorite everything :P)
The clever dialogue is full of quotable gems too (for example, when Cornelius and Barnaby get a glimpse of Irene’s bloomers, Barnaby says, “We sell them at Vandergelder’s, we see them all the time,” to which Cornelius replies, “But ours are so empty.”)
All the actors were perfectly cast, even though now Anthony Perkins and Shirley MacLaine are the only two recognizable names. Actually, if you watch Mad Men, you’ll know Robert Morse too – he’s Bertram Cooper, one of the original partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (I had to look him up because his name seemed familiar, and had an “It’s him!!!” moment.)
From the main characters to the minor ones like Joe the Barber (“A nickle, after twenty years!”) and Malachi Stack (“I’m as handy as a pocket!”), they all play off each other so well. Shirley Booth is like a meddling but sweet fairy godmother, Paul Ford is the perfect grumpy old man without being malicious, Shirley MacLaine is lovely, and if you only know Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, you’ll see how versatile he is here.
Only two years later, he’d be in a dress again
The costume is simple (the story is set in 1884), but pretty and not too “Hollywood-ized”. Overall, it is a charming, enjoyable little film that I would watch over the big musical extravaganza any day (and not just because I love Anthony Perkins and can’t stand Barbra Streisand.)