Matchmaker Dolly Levi travels to Yonkers in New York, to meet up with the wealthy Horace Vandergelder, on whom she has designs. She takes him, his two clerks and his niece to the city, where a game of love musical chairs ensues. But in the end, everyone finds their match.
Considering he had already brought The King and I, West Side Story and The Sound of Music so successfully to the screen, writer-producer Ernest Lehman could have had few excuses for making such a hash of this adaptation of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart's 1964 musical revision of Thornton Wilder's 1954 comedy, The Matchmaker (which had itself been reworked from Wilder's 1938 show, The Merchant of Yonkers).
The irony is that Lehman's decision to replace the Tony-winning Carol Channing had nothing to do with her suitability for the role: he'd simply disliked her performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie and couldn't bear the thought of watching her over 146 minutes. So, having rejected such experienced stars as Ginger Rogers and Betty Grable (who'd both played Dolly on tour) and more commercial possibilities like Elizabeth Taylor and Julie Andrews, Lehman took Mike Nichols's advice and cast Barbra Streisand, who had yet to begin work on Funny Girl. At just 26, Streisand had her own doubts about her ability to play the ebullient widow and her wayward performance (in which she came across variously as Fanny Brice, Mae West and Marilyn Monroe) owed much to director Gene Kelly's preoccupation with the $24 million picture's considerable technical challenges. However, she wasn't helped much either by co-star Walter Matthau (who took exception to her and cheerfully watched her struggle) or equally inexperienced supports like Michael Crawford. Indeed, even Louis Armstrong couldn't resist competing with her in their showstopping duet. The Oscar-winning 15-acre New York set were truly splendid and Irene Sharaff's costumes and Harry Stradling's photography were equally stylish. But Kelly had always steered clear of this kind of cosy Americana and his direction often seemed to be striking against the nostalgic tone. But, even when numbers like `Before the Parade Passes' were impressively staged, the problem of Streisand's age recurred, as she simply lacked the maturity to give the song its due poignancy.
Emphasis has been placed on extravaganza, when it should really have been placed on getting good performances out of a talented cast.