The Hallelujah Trail
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.