A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Matchmaker (Joseph Anthony, 1958)

Like Lynn Riggs's Green Grow the Lilacs and Ferenc Molnár's Liliom, Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker is not performed much these days. The chief reason is probably that they were all made into hugely successful musicals: respectively, Oklahoma!, Carousel, and Hello, Dolly! And unlike George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion or William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which weren't superseded by their musical incarnations My Fair Lady and West Side Story, they seem somewhat naked without their musical adornments. Still, the film version of The Matchmaker, made three years after the play became a Broadway success but six years before the musical smash, retains a great deal of charm. Much of it comes from its cast: Shirley Booth as Dolly Gallagher Levi, Paul Ford as Horace Vandergelder, Shirley MacLaine as Irene Molloy, Anthony Perkins as Cornelius Hackl, and in his first substantial screen role, an impish Robert Morse as Barnaby Tucker. Shorn of its musical trimmings, the movie depends largely on the farce-timing of the cast, who frequently break the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience. For some viewers, a little whimsy goes a long way, and The Matchmaker has an awful lot of it. Its "opening up" from the stage version by screenwriter John Michael Hayes sometimes feels forced, and the ending depends too heavily on an unconvincingly complete about-face by Vandergelder. But director Anthony, who did most of his work in the theater and had only one previous screen directing credit for The Rainmaker (1956), keeps things moving nicely.

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