‘The Matchmaker’ (1958)/ ‘The Assassination Bureau’ (1969)

Let the pros match and dispatch.

Two out-of-print Paramount DVD’s are now available on demand from Warner Archive.

Joseph Anthony’s The Matchmaker, adapted by John Michael Hayes from Thornton Wilder’s play, is the story now best known through its musical incarnation as Hello Dolly. The story, structure, and characters are exactly the same, as well as some of the dialogue. The biggest difference is that this earlier version employs Wilder’s theatrical device of having the characters frequently address the audience; it’s a trick the musical effectively replaces with song.

The bustling, nasal-voiced Shirley Booth plays Dolly Levi to Paul Ford’s irascible bachelor Horace Vandergelder. Cornelius and Barnaby, his assistants who play hooky from his store in Yonkers to have an adventure in New York for the day, are Tony Perkins and Robert Morse. Shirley MacLaine is the milliner who hopes to marry Horace but falls for Cornelius. Watching this once well-received property at a distance of over 50 years, I can’t help thinking what an improvement the musical was.

The British The Assassination Bureau (full title: The Assassination Bureau Limited ), from producer-writer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden, is the type of farcical black comedy from the decade loosened up by James Bond and other escapist larks that make light of heroes who commit murder or otherwise get mixed up with corpses (e.g. The Loved One, The Wrong Box, What a Way to Go, etc.). Although not a spy spoof, it has the air of one.

Diana Rigg plays a liberated would-be journalist of the early 20th Century who learns of a secret organisation that commits murders for a price. She undertakes to have its president (Oliver Reed) assassinated so she can end its reign and cover the story, but she doesn’t realize she’s a pawn of her publisher (Telly Savalas), who wants to take over the Bureau. After much jolly running through brothels and many explosions across Europe, it ends with endless heroics aboard a zeppelin that’s trying to bomb the major European heads of state and trigger what we know as World War One. Meanwhile, our erstwhile and somewhat sidelined heroine falls for the charms of her supposed target.

Today, this trifle might appeal to sophisticated children for its simple, colorful characters and scenes, shot prettily by Geoffrey Unsworth and scored now liltingly, now cartoonishly by Ron Grainer. It might also appeal to nostalgics (not to mention fans of Rigg at her most fetching). It may even have ancillary appeal to the literati, less for being based on a novel by Jack London (completed by Robert L. Fish for publication in 1963) than for its incidental foreshadowing of the steampunk genre.

RATING 4 / 10