The Hallelujah Trail

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Overview

You know you're in trouble when you're 40 minutes into a nearly three-hour comedy-Western, and Donald Pleasence -- not an actor ever known for his comedic skills -- is the funniest thing in the movie so far. The Hallelujah Trail was to John Sturges' output roughly what It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was to Stanley Kramer's -- a gargantuan attempt at comedy that overstayed its welcome by a long way, except that Kramer's movie, whatever its other faults, was funny. In the case of The Hallelujah Trail, it's ...
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Overview

You know you're in trouble when you're 40 minutes into a nearly three-hour comedy-Western, and Donald Pleasence -- not an actor ever known for his comedic skills -- is the funniest thing in the movie so far. The Hallelujah Trail was to John Sturges' output roughly what It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was to Stanley Kramer's -- a gargantuan attempt at comedy that overstayed its welcome by a long way, except that Kramer's movie, whatever its other faults, was funny. In the case of The Hallelujah Trail, it's difficult to fathom precisely what Sturges or the Mirisch brothers, whose production company financed the movie, had in mind. They had an attractive cast, though one that, with Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick in leading roles, wasn't known for its comedic talents. Lee Remick is pretty enough, and if she's not, then Pamela Tiffin as Lancaster's oversexed daughter will pick up the slack, and her awkwardly passionate relationship with inept young officer Jim Hutton becomes part of the movie's supposed humor. And evidently, The Hallelujah Trail was intended on one level as a parody of epic Western films such as How the West Was Won, right down to its serious opening narration by John Dehner. One listens to and watches all of this with a smile, waiting for something that seems funny, but apart from an amusing opening sequence with Dub Taylor and Donald Pleasence, there's nothing to do but wait for long stretches. In any case, the DVD is a kind of total-immersion Western experience, a full afternoon's viewing at a leisurely pace. And it is possible that the viewer may find that waiting for something funny builds suspense as long minutes pass, sufficiently carrying a lot of the screen time. Technically the disc is just fine -- the movie looks great, with deep colors and a load of detail -- but it was shot on such a wide canvas, with so many medium and wide shots, that the film really only comes off well on a true big-screen monitor (at least 30 inches). The audio is also bright and clean, giving Elmer Bernstein's rousing score its full due. His music here is a far cry from his work on Sturges' The Magnificent Seven, steeped more in hymnal-related sources than the Copland-esque Western strains of the earlier score. (Anyone who wants the highlights of that score, incidentally, should look to Koch International Classics' CD The Magnificent Seven by James Sedares and the Phoenix Symphony, which includes a beautiful choral version of the six-minute overture/main title music from this movie.) The 16 chapters on the DVD are hardly adequate for a movie of this length, although too many more might not have helped given the immense, sprawling nature of the narrative. A trailer is the only bonus on a simple menu.
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Special Features

Original theatrical trailer; French and Spanish subtitles
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
The Hallelujah Trail was director/producer John Sturges' effort at doing a light-hearted Western, almost a satire of the genre. It dates from a period in which the major studios, distributors, and producers had decided that bigger was almost always better, not just in dramas and musicals, but also in comedy, which led to such gargantuan productions as Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines and The Great Race, both released in that same year. But those movies, for all of their outsized casts and lengths, had a key virtue that The Hallelujah Trail lacked: They were funny -- not all the way through, but in many of their scenes and shots, enough to justify an entire afternoon or evening invested in watching them; whereas The Hallelujah Trail just lay there for much of its 166 minutes, eliciting a few chuckles (at best). Sturges had directed and produced some extremely long (and successful) dramatic films the late 1950s and early 1960s, but seems to have had no ability to handle sustained comedy -- every shot in The Hallelujah Trail is held too long, every scene runs too long, and he was unable to be able to get the kind of laugh-inducing performances out of his cast that he needed. Given that the cast was led by Burt Lancaster, this is not surprising -- Lancaster, like Sturges, was known and praised for many things, but comedy was not high on the list; James Garner, whose sense of irony is much more light-hearted and nearer the surface, and who subsequently delivered his share of comedic westerns as a star in Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), would have been a better choice. And with that impediment at the center of the movie, and a director who couldn't achieve the overall tone required, the picture was doomed from the start. Among the cast, only Donald Pleasence, playing a sagely drunk, fares well -- especially in his first scene, which savagely parodies the scene with the village wise-man in Sturges' own The Magnificent Seven. Pleasence makes the most of his material and evidently inspired Sturges at those moments. His performance and Elmer Bernstein's score (one of his best), and maybe the chance to watch Lee Remick (who would have looked good in a burlap bag) modeling 19th century women's fashions, are the best reasons for seeing this movie, unless you have endless patience.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 3/20/2001
  • UPC: 027616859020
  • Original Release: 1965
  • Rating:

  • Source: Mgm (Video & Dvd)
  • Region Code: 1
  • Aspect Ratio: Cinemascope (2.35:1)
  • Presentation: Wide Screen
  • Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Language: English, Français
  • Time: 2:39:00
  • Format: DVD

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Burt Lancaster Col. Thadeus Gearhart
Lee Remick Cora Templeton Massingale
Jim Hutton Capt. Paul Slater
Pamela Tiffin Louise Gearhart
Donald Pleasence Oracle Jones
Brian Keith Frank Wallingham
Martin Landau Chief Walks-Stooped-Over
John Anderson Sgt. Buell
Tom Stern Kevin O'Flaherty
Robert J. Wilke Chief Five Barrels
Jerry Gatlin First Brother-in-Law
Larry Duran Second Brother-in-Law
Jim Burk Elks-Runner
Dub Taylor Clayton Howell
John R. McKee Rafe Pike
Helen Kleeb Henrietta
Noam Pitlik Interpreter
Carl Pitti Phillips
Bill Williams Brady
Marshall Reed Carter
Ted Markland Bandmaster
Buff Brady Bilkins
Bing Russell Horner
Karla Most Mary Ann
Elaine Martone Loretta
Hope Summers Mrs. Hasselrad
Whit Bissell Hobbs
Val Avery Denver Bartender
John Dehner Voice Only
Billy Benedict Simpson
James Burke
Technical Credits
John Sturges Director, Producer
Hoyle Barrett Set Decoration/Design
Elmer Bernstein Score Composer
John Gay Screenwriter
Edith Head Costumes/Costume Designer
Cary O'Dell Art Director
Paul Pollard Special Effects
Ernie Sheldon Songwriter
Bruce Surtees Camera Operator
Robert Surtees Cinematographer
Ferris Webster Editor
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Scene Index

Side #1 --
0. Side #1 --
0. Scene Selections
1. Intro Music/Title [6:18]
2. Intro/The Denver Oracle [7:05]
3. Booze News [5:01]
4. "Equality Or Death" [16:44]
5. Cora's Last Stand [8:28]
6. The March On Denver [8:41]
7. Denver Citizen Militia [12:21]
8. Collision Course [17:01]
9. Peace Conference [7:01]
10. Misunderstood Present [8:36]
11. Peaceful Picket Line [6:28]
12. The Indian Rally [10:51]
13. Drink Under Pressure [11:01]
14. Hostage Exchange Drama [11:15]
15. That Sinking Feeling [9:27]
16. Postscripts/Credits [8:53]
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Languages
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Hallelujah....

    John Sturges has given us some great movies and this is one of his best. The musical score by Elmer Bernstein equals his legendary Magnificent Seven,also a Sturges classic. The acting performances by Burt Lancaster and Brian Keith were awsome as always, but the real stars were John Anderson as Sgt. Buell, Donald Pleasence as Oracle Jones, Martin Landau as Chief Walks-Stooped-Over and the narrator John Dehner.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews