Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The Matchmaker (1958): A Review (Review #1728)



This review is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is Anthony Perkins

It is a strange thing that pre-Psycho, Anthony Perkins was considered a light comedy performer and charming young man, even something of a teen heartthrob. The Matchmaker gives him and the rest of the cast a chance to show a funnier, more knowing side to a delightful romantic comedy.

With the characters at times speaking directly to the viewer, The Matchmaker is Dolly Gallagher Levi (Shirley Booth), a widow of refinement, charm, wit but not much money. Her newest client Yonkers, New York's wealthiest but miserly businessman, Horace Vandergelder (Paul Ford). Dolly initially has him set with pretty shopgirl Irene Molloy (Shirley MacLaine). Now however, Dolly now has decided Vandergelder should free himself of his money by marrying Dolly herself. Tricking him into looking at a fictitious woman named "Ernestina Simple", Horace heads to New York City.

Unbeknown to him, his long-suffering store clerks Cornelius Hackl (Perkins) and Barnaby Tucker (Robert Morse) decide to go to New York too, to find adventure and romance. Through a series of complications, Cornelius and Barnaby come upon Irene's millinery, unaware that Horace and Dolly are going there too. Dolly's efforts to explain the growing confusion meet with some success: Horace knows Irene is entertaining gentlemen callers, but not who. Dolly also leads Irene and her BFF Minnie (Perry Wilson) that Cornelius is a wealthy man-about-town who likes the odd practical joke.

Off to a lavish dinner at the Harmonia Gardens everyone eventually ends up at. Cornelius and Barnaby can hardly afford an apple between them, but Irene and Minnie have bamboozled them into going. Dolly has equally bamboozled Horace into paying for her meal, while attempting to woo him into marriage. More complications ensue and just when everything seems lost for the clerks and the matchmaker, Dolly dusts herself off and hoodwinks Horace into both an equitable partnership with Cornelius and into marriage.

The Matchmaker starts with our characters addressing the viewers, fully aware that they are in a movie. While this is not used often during the film, it is a nice touch from director Joseph Anthony to show that essentially, everyone is in on the joke. Anthony manages to also have one of these asides be quite dramatic and moving.

Dolly, despondent in her carriage on her way back from the disastrous Harmonia Gardens date, talks to us about her past. We hear about her great love for her late husband, Ephraim Levi, and how when she became a widow, she locked herself away from the world. It wasn't until an old oak leaf left by her husband in the Bible fell one day that she realized she was becoming like that old oak leaf: lifeless, dry, and pressed into history. 

It's a moving moment, the rare dramatic moment in the film, and Booth delivers the monologue movingly. The Matchmaker was Booth's final of her five-film career, preferring the Broadway stage and later the Hazel television series than a film career. Do not, however, let this suggest that Booth could not make things funny. Far from it: Booth is hilarious and charming as Dolly Levi, able to make lines sound funny while still grounding it in some semblance of reality.

She, for example, shows a photo of a scantily clad "Ernestina" and casually mentions that it is Ernestina's "graduation picture". Booth makes Dolly a delightful survivor, shrewd character who lives by her wits and always manages to come out on top. John Michael Hayes' adaptation of Thornton Wilder's play is full of funny lines delivered delightfully by the cast.

Ford, for example, informs the viewer that "Marriage is a bribe, to make a housekeeper think she's a householder". When Dolly is still pimping out "Ernestina", Horace asks how he will recognize her. "How do you recognize the Rocky Mountains?", she asks. Looking at the photo, he enthusiastically replies, "Well, those are big". It's a surprisingly risqué moment, the not-too-subtle line delivery implying something other than mountains.

Ford plays Vandergelder as a skinflint who can easily be hoodwinked, someone whose bark is worse than his bite. MacLaine as Irene makes her a survivor in her own right, someone who is looking out for herself until love gets in the way. 

Perkins, for his part, does well playing Cornelius' nervousness both romantically and financially. There is a long section where he and Morse have to try to hide from Horace, having skipped out on work for their New York sojourn. It's a nice bit of physical comedy ably handled by them. We even get a moment where Perkins and Morse, due to circumstances, have to escape the restaurant in drag. Perkins makes Cornelius an eager young fellow, looking for romance and adventure and finding it more than he can handle. 

The Matchmaker is a delightful romp, charming and self-aware. Later adapted into the musical Hello, Dolly!, The Matchmaker is a nice film that entertains. 

The film adaptation of Hello, Dolly! on the other hand...


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