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After the opening Paramount and VistaVision logos, the film begins with an old-fashioned portrait of a street scene, labeled "Yonkers, NY, 1884." The camera zooms in on the portrait, which then becomes a live-action scene of Shirley Booth looking at a statue. After Booth's name and character name, "Dolly 'Gallagher' Levi," appear superimposed over her, she turns to the camera and says, "Oh hello there. Are all of you people married? Oh, that's nice." The camera then pans to Anthony Perkins, who, as "Cornelius Hackl," is ogling pretty girls walking by. Perkins peers at the camera as if looking into the movie theater and asks, "Are you alone? He's out getting you popcorn? Oh, well," before shrugging and walking away. Shirley MacLaine's credit then appears as she steps out of a carriage and the camera zooms in to show her revealed ankles. MacLaine states, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Pretty, aren't they?" The camera then moves up to the top floor of "Horace Vandergelder's" general store, where Paul Ford is cooing at a caged bird outside his window. He glares at the camera and gruffly demands, "Haven't you any better way to spend your money?" When Ford closes the blinds, the camera draws back and the live-action scene again becomes a portrait, over which the remaining credits appear.
Characters talk directly to the camera numerous times during the film, commenting on the action or explaining their motivations. Critics were mostly positive about the device, and especially praised the soliloquy given by Wallace Ford, as "Malachi Stack," when he reveals that he is returning the found wallet because it is best to nurture only one vice at a time, and his chosen vice is whiskey. At the end of the picture, Dolly assembles the leading characters and, after she instructs them to compose a moral for the story, they relate their ideas to the audience. Upon Cornelius' wish for the audience that they have both adventure and quiet, Dolly urges them to go out immediately and fulfill their hearts's desires, but not to tell anyone that she told them to do so.
As noted in the onscreen credits, the film was taken "from the play by Thornton Wilder." While the credits refer only to one play, Wilder's hit play The Matchmaker was based on his 1938 production The Merchant of Yonkers, which had been a commercial failure. In turn, The Merchant of Yonkers was based on two earlier plays. The first, A Day Well Spent, was written by John Oxenford and was produced in 1835, according to information in the Paramount Collection, located at the AMPAS Library. Oxenford's play was then adapted as a "Viennese farce," written by Johann Nestroy in 1842 and entitled Einen Jux will er sich Machen. The play The Matchmaker first opened in the Edinburgh Festival in 1954, and after a successful run in London, moved to Broadway on December 5, 1955. On the Razzle, a 1981 off-Broadway play by Tom Stoppard, was also based on Oxenford's and Nestroy's works.
According to a March 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, producer Don Hartman originally intended to star Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in the picture, which would have marked their first re-teaming since the 1952 M-G-M production Pat and Mike. The character of "Ernestina Simple," invented by Dolly, is never seen in the film, although the photograph of Ernestina is actually actress Peggy Connelly, according to a studio press release. Actress Perry Wilson, who portrayed "Minnie Fay," was married to director Joseph Anthony, and according to a press release, their two children, Ellen and Peter, were to have bit roles in the picture. Studio publicity and Hollywood Reporter news items also include Anita Ross and Richard Bailey in the cast, but their appearance, as well as that of the Anthony children, in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Wilson, primarily a television and stage actress, made only one other picture beside The Matchmaker, the 1957 Paramount release Fear Strikes Out, which also starred Perkins.
Although some contemporary sources reported that The Matchmaker marked the film debut of Robert Morse, the only member of the original Broadway cast to reprise his role for the movie, he had previously appeared in a bit role in the 1954 Paramount release The Proud and the Profane (see below). The picture did mark the first comedic roles of Booth and Perkins, both noted for their dramatic performances. The Variety reviewer called Booth's performance "no less than superb" and stated that Perkins' "switch to farce is also a bright experience." The picture was the last film of producer Hartman, who died in March 1958. Hartman, the head of production at Paramount from 1950 to 1956, formed his own independent production unit in August 1956. His first picture was the Paramount release Desire Under the Elms.
Wilder's play was also used as the basis for the Tony Award-winning musical Hello, Dolly! (New York, 16 January 1964), with a book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Directed by Gower Champion, the musical featured Carol Channing in what was to become her most famous role, one that she revived on Broadway in both 1955 and 1978. The musical was also revived in 1975, featuring an Africa-American cast headed by Pearl Bailey as Dolly and Billy Daniels as Horace. In 1969, Twentieth Century-Fox made a movie of Hello, Dolly!, which was directed by Gene Kelly and starred Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford (see AFI Catalog of Featue Films, 1961-70).