May 14, 2018  (Web Review)

The Hallelujah Trail

Olive, 155 min., not rated, DVD: $24.99, Blu-ray: $29.99

Reviewer rating: 2.0/4

Action director and Western veteran John Sturges is out of his element in this lumbering 1965 comedy—a big budget mix of wagon train epic, slapstick, and free-for-all action that seems to aim for the scope of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Burt Lancaster stars as a cavalry officer accompanying a wagon train full of whisky that is headed for Denver, and Lee Remick is the spirited temperance leader who leads her followers (including Pamela Tiffin as Lancaster’s daughter) into Indian country to intercept the shipment. The story also sends an Indian raiding party (made up of white actors like Martin Landau playing offensive stereotypes in redface makeup), striking Irish teamsters, and a Denver citizen’s committee (led by Brian Keith) into the desert, where all collide in a blinding dust storm. Featuring hundreds of actors and extras, the massive production was shot in Ultra Panavision 70, an expensive process reserved for spectacles, but while Sturges does indeed deliver impressive action set pieces his approach to comedy is broad and cartoonish, with outsized slapstick performances from the likes of Donald Pleasence as a whisky-soused tracker. Lancaster manages to maintain a modicum of dignity and Remick embraces her role as a passionate reformer, while costar Jim Hutton is amiable as the young second in command, but the film was a flop upon release and only looks worse with age due to its clownish stereotypes and thin story. Presented in its 155-minute version (10 minutes short of the complete roadshow cut) with the overture, this is not a necessary purchase. (S. Axmaker)