AMAD: THE MATCHMAKER (1958) Life is never quite interesting enough. You people who come to the movies know that.
Published at: July 12, 2008, 12:42 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we find ourselves watching 1958’s absurd comedy THE MATCHMAKER, jumping from yesterday’s suspense-thriller SHADOW OF A DOUBT via famous playwrite Thornton Wilder, who scriped Hitchcock’s film and originated the play THE MATCHMAKER is based on.
Beyond any shadow of a doubt (cute, huh?) this film is one of the most pleasant surprises of the list so far. I can’t believe it’s not as well known as some of the films on this list.
I picked it up on a lark, pretty much only for the curiocity factor of seeing a pre-PSYCHO Anthony Perkins in what looked to be a saccharine headach of a film. I mean look at the DVD cover up above.
THE MATCHMAKER is one of the smartest and funniest romantic comedies I’ve ever seen. And I’m a man who loves me a good romantic comedy.
Directed by Joseph Anthony and starring Perkins, Shirley MacLaine, Paul Ford, Robert Morse and, finally, Shirley Booth as the title character, this film has style, charm, wit, slapstick comedy, character comedy, hilarious dialogue, wonderful lines and is genuinely decades ahead of its time.
The characters all break the fourth wall, you see. I thought it was a trick at first, a clever way to introduce us to the characters when we get one long, complicated crane shot going through the busy 1800s Yonkers square stopping at each of our group as they introduce themselves and their part in the story, stopping in their daily life like they are bumping into an old friend.
And to further awesome up the movie, they even acknowledge that they’re in a movie. That’s where the quote in the subhead comes from.
This movie is just so damned enjoyable. Basically you have an older (poor) matchmaker (Booth) who has plans on hooking herself the richest man in Yonkers, Mr. Horace Vandergelder (Paul Ford). Mr. Vandergelder is the stingiest penny pincher this side of Ebenezer Scrooge.
He runs a general store managed by Cornelius Hackl (Perkins) and his best friend Barnaby Tucker (Robert Morse). They hate the old coot, giving them no time off, no raises, barely enough to live on. So they decide to say fuck it and take a day off (gee, I wonder if Mr. Hughes watched this movie? Breaking the fourth wall and playing hookey?) and run to the big apple and spend all their dough ($10 of 1890s dough), kiss a couple girls and have an adventure.
What they don’t know is that their boss is also heading to New York to meet a girl who is on the verge of agreeing to marry the 60 something year old out of boredom and a desire to get out of her life (Irene Molloy, played by Shirley MacLaine). Booth tags along doing everything she can to keep Irene and Vendergelder apart, keeping him available for herself.
Of course, through extreme coincidence Perkins ends up falling in love with MacLaine and thus begins the true comedy of him avoiding his boss while trying to steal his lady.
Perkins’ talent for comedy is at top form here. The way he sells a laugh with a simple piece of body movement, a twitch of the neck or a well placed clumsy leg. There’s a particular scene where he’s hiding out in MacLaine’s store as Vandergelder is there and he’s discovered by Booth, halfway to the safety of his closet and he just kind of slows to a crawl, knowing he’s found out, and that crawl just stops as he lays half on the ground and half in the cupboard, essentially reduced to playing dead.
Final thoughts: Absolutely get your eyes on this film. It’s one of the most effortlessly fun comedies I’ve seen in a long time with a particularly outstanding turn by Anthony Perkins. And you can see the very beginnings of everybody’s favorite Mama’s Boy, Norman, in his sheepishly boyish performance.
Fun facts: This movie is the basis for Hello, Dolly, so I bet that’d be either a really fun or really repetitive double feature. I haven’t seen Hello, Dolly since I was a very young kid (if you don’t count watching Wall-E three times as an almost whole viewing of that musical). Also, the great Ruth Gordon originated the role of the matchmaker on Broadway in 1955. I bet that was incredible…
NOTE: THIS IS NOT A MUSICAL! It spawned the musical. Here the focus is firmly on the comedy and the sweetness of the romance between MacLaine and Perkins.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Saturday, July 12th: THE BLACK HOLE (1979)
Sunday, July 13th: VENGEANCE IS MINE (1974)
Monday, July 14th: STRANGE INVADERS (1983)
Tuesday, July 15th: SLEUTH (1972)
Wednesday, July 16th: FRENZY (1972)
Thursday, July 17th: KINGDOM OF HEAVEN: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2005)
Friday, July 18th: CADILLAC MAN (1990)
Tomorrow we follow Anthony Perkins over to the late 70s Disney Sci-Fi Adventure: THE BLACK HOLE. See you folks then.