Hello, Dolly! is a 1969 American romantic comedy musical film based on the 1964 Broadway production of the same name. Directed by Gene Kelly and produced by Ernest Lehman, the film follows the story of Dolly Levi, a strong-willed matchmaker who tries to find a match for the miserly Horace Vandergelder. Released on December 16, 1969 by 20th Century Fox, the film won three Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Score of a Musical Picture and Best Sound.
In 1890, all of New York City is excited because widowed, brassy Dolly Levi is in town ("Call On Dolly"). Dolly makes a living through matchmaking and numerous sidelines ("Just Leave Everything To Me"). She is currently seeking a wife for grumpy Horace Vandergelder, the well-known "half-a-millionaire", but it becomes clear that Dolly intends to marry Horace herself. Dolly travels to Yonkers, New York to visit Horace. Ambrose Kemper, a young artist, wants to marry Horace's weepy niece, Ermengarde, but Horace opposes this because Ambrose's vocation does not guarantee a steady living. Horace, who is the owner of Vandergelder's Hay and Feed, explains to his two clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, that he is going to get married because "It Takes A Woman" to cheerfully do all the household chores. He plans to travel to New York City to propose to Irene Molloy, who owns a hat shop there. Dolly arrives in Yonkers and sends Horace ahead to the city. Before leaving, he tells Cornelius and Barnaby to mind the store.
Cornelius decides that he and Barnaby need to get out of Yonkers. Dolly knows two ladies in New York City they should call on: Irene Molloy and her shop assistant, Minnie Fay. She enters Ermengarde and Ambrose in the upcoming polka competition at the fancy Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in New York City, so Ambrose can demonstrate his ability to be a breadwinner to Uncle Horace. Cornelius, Barnaby, Ambrose, Ermengarde, and Dolly take the train to New York ("Put On Your Sunday Clothes"). Irene and Minnie open their hat shop for the afternoon. Irene does not love Horace Vandergelder and declares that she will wear an elaborate hat to impress a gentleman ("Ribbons Down My Back"). Cornelius and Barnaby arrive at the shop and pretend to be rich. Horace and Dolly arrive and Cornelius and Barnaby hide. Minnie screams when she finds Cornelius hiding in an armoire. Horace is about to open the armoire himself, but Dolly "searches" it and pronounces it empty. After hearing Cornelius sneeze, Horace storms out upon realizing there are men hiding in the shop, although he is unaware that they are his clerks. Dolly arranges for Cornelius and Barnaby, who are still pretending to be rich, to take the ladies out to dinner at Harmonia Gardens to make up for their humiliation. She teaches Cornelius and Barnaby how to dance since they always have dancing at such establishments ("Dancing"). The clerks and the ladies go to watch the Fourteenth Street Association Parade together. Alone, Dolly asks her first husband Ephram's permission to marry Horace, requesting a sign. She resolves to move on with life ("Before The Parade Passes By"). After meeting an old friend, Gussie Granger, on a float in the parade, Dolly catches up with the annoyed Vandergelder as he is marching in the parade. She tells him the heiress Ernestina Semple (changed from the stage version's Ernestina Money; also Judy Knaiz) would be perfect for him and asks him to meet her at Harmonia Gardens that evening.
Cornelius is determined to get a kiss before the night is over. Since the clerks have no money to hire a carriage, they tell the girls that walking to the restaurant shows that they've got "Elegance". In a quiet flat, Dolly prepares for the evening ("Love Is Only Love"). At the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, Rudolph, the head waiter, whips his crew into shape for Dolly Levi's return. Horace arrives to meet his date, who is really Dolly's friend Gussie. As it turns out, she is not rich or elegant as Dolly implied, and she soon leaves after being bored by Horace, just as she and Dolly planned.
Cornelius, Barnaby and their dates arrive and are unaware that Horace is also at the restaurant. Dolly makes her triumphant return to the restaurant and is greeted in style by the staff ("Hello, Dolly!"). She sits in the now-empty seat at Horace's table and proceeds to tell him that no matter what he says, she will not marry him. Fearful of being caught, Cornelius confesses to the ladies that he and Barnaby have no money, and Irene, who knew they were pretending all along, offers to pay for the meal. She then realizes that she left her handbag with all her money in it at home. The four try to sneak out during the polka contest, but Horace recognizes them and also spots Ermengarde and Ambrose. In the ensuing confrontation, Vandergelder fires Cornelius and Barnaby (although they claim to have already quit) and they are forced to flee as a riot breaks out. Cornelius professes his love for Irene because "It Only Takes A Moment". Horace declares that he wouldn't marry Dolly if she were the last woman in the world. Dolly angrily bids him farewell; while he's bored and lonely, she'll be living the high life ("So Long, Dearie").
The next morning, back at the hay and feed store, Cornelius and Irene, Barnaby and Minnie, and Ambrose and Ermengarde each come to collect the money Vandergelder owes them. Chastened, he finally admits that he needs Dolly in his life, but she is unsure about the marriage until Ephram sends her a sign. Vandergelder spontaneously repeats a saying of Ephram's: "Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread about, encouraging young things to grow." Cornelius becomes Horace's business partner at the store, and Barnaby fills Cornelius' old position. Horace tells Dolly life would be dull without her, and she promises that she'll "never go away again" ("Finale").
- Barbra Streisand as Dolly Levi
- Walter Matthau as Horace Vandergelder
- Michael Crawford as Cornelius Hackl
- Marianne McAndrew as Irene Molloy
- E. J. Peaker as Minnie Fay
- Danny Lockin as Barnaby Tucker
- Joyce Ames as Ermengarde Vandergelder
- Tommy Tune as Ambrose Kemper
- Judy Knaiz as Gussie Granger; Ernestina Semple
- David Hurst as Rudolph Reisenweber
- Fritz Feld as Fritz, German waiter
- Richard Collier as Joe, Vandergelder's barber
- J. Pat O'Malley as Policeman in park
- Louis Armstrong as Orchestra leader
- Tucker Smith as Dancer
- Jennifer Gan as Miss Bolivia
Production had wrapped more than a year earlier, but the release was significantly delayed for legal reasons. A clause in the 1965 film sale contract specified that the film could not be released until June 1971 or when the show closed on Broadway, whichever came first. In 1969, the show was still running. Eager to release the film to recoup its cost, Fox negotiated and paid an "early release" escape payment to release "Dolly" which cost Fox an estimated $1–2 million. The film opened strongly and initially grossed more than The Sound of Music, but lost momentum and became a disappointment at the box office. It grossed $33.2 million at the box office in the United States, earning a theatrical rental (the distributor's share of the box office after deducting the exhibitor's cut) of $15.2 million, ranking it in the top five highest-grossing films of the 1969–1970 season. In total, it earned $26 million in theatrical rentals for Fox, against its $25.335 million production budget. Despite performing well at the box office, it still lost its backers an estimated $10 million. The soundtrack album's sales also did not live up to expectations, and rose to only No. 49 on the Billboard chart.
The film received favorable reviews upon release, but was not viewed to be a success as a musical and made little use of the widescreen format. Critic Tom Santopietro described the director's approach as shoveling more and more bodies on-screen with no apparent purpose. Vincent Canby in his New York Times review said that the film's producer and director merely inflated their faults to huge proportions. The film holds a 43% "Rotten" rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The consensus states: "Though Barbra Streisand charms, she's miscast as the titular middle-aged widow in Gene Kelly's sluggish and over-produced final directorial effort." Eric Henderson of Slant Magazine said of the film: "More infamous for bringing Fox financially to its knees than for being the last major musical directed by Gene Kelly, Hello, Dolly! is one big-assed bull in a china shop. The film cost nearly as much to produce as Cleopatra and made far less at the box office, thus earning the film its reputation as one of Hollywood’s foremost turkeys."
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