Dolly Levi (Barbra Steisand) is a self-styled matchmaker in the New York of 1890, taking every opportunity to hand out her business cards to drum up interest in her skills of knowing who is best suited for whom. Today she is headed out to Yonkers to visit a "half millionaire" called Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), who is looking to finally get married, although his niece Ermengarde (Joyce Ames) who lives with him has a similar notion. Horace won't allow her to marry Ambrose (Tommy Tune) because he is an artist, but little does he know that Dolly has plans of her own...
Along with Twentieth Century Fox's Star! and Doctor Dolittle, Hello, Dolly! was the final nail in the coffin for the classic Hollywood musical, of the packed with showtunes variety. It did make money, but not enough to recover its costs, mainly because so much was spent on it and if there's one thing you can say about it, it's that all that cash is undoubtedly up there on the screen, with massive sets, a cast of thousands (or thereabouts) and lavish costumes as far as the eye can see. What it did not have, on the other hand, was a sense of fun.
Which was odd considering how far it strained under Gene Kelly's direction to convey a joie de vivre about its slight plot and broadly sketched characters. This was due to being sabotaged by an elephantine production that took a bit of fluff and endeavoured (oh, how it endeavoured) to make an epic out of it; this may have been a Broadway smash, but the film version is in your face throughout, yelling "YEAH! LOOK IMPRESSED!" at the top of its voice. At the time, the main problem audiences had with it was that Streisand was far too young to be playing the widowed Dolly.
Yet watching it now, there are bigger problems to be encountered, as after all, Babs had the voice to carry the part even if she didn't have the experience many thought it needed. Plotwise, we can see exactly where everyone is headed in the first ten minutes or so, making an already long film - over two hours - feel all the longer as the minutes drag by. At least we have the music, you think, but the songs are surprisingly unmemorable apart from the title one which is most recognisable, making it churlish to complain that producer Ernest Lehmann's script spends too much time pussyfooting around between them.
Well, you think, maybe there's a great big ginormous number that will impress? But no, those could be the worst aspect as they are too overproduced to be anything but a marathon to sit through, from the huge parade that features countless extras to the restaurant scene which appears to have been shot in an overdressed aircraft hangar. The cast do their best with personalities that are little better than clichés, but their comedy is not funny, with not one decent line for them to grab a much needed laugh out of; even a bright performer like Michael Crawford is all at sea here. Hello, Dolly! is simply too bloated for its own good, impressing few but itself, and after a while you may well resent the time it is taking out of your precious life. There was a little charmer to be made out of this, but what we got was a lumbering and charmless beast. Music by Jerry Herman.