HALLELUJAH TRAIL, THE (director: John Sturges; screenwriters: John Gay/based on the novel by Bill Gulick; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Burt Lancaster (Col. Thaddeus Gearhart), Lee Remick (Cora Templeton Massingale), Jim Hutton (Capt. Paul Slater), Pamela Tiffin (Louise Gearhart), Donald Pleasence (“Oracle” Jones), Brian Keith (Frank Wallingham), Dub Taylor (Clayton Howell), Whit Bissell (Hobbs), Kevin O’Flaherty (Tom Stern); Runtime: 152; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Sturges/Robert E. Relyea; United Artists; 1965)
“Hung out to dry with nowhere to go but in quicksand.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
John Sturges’ (“Gunfight at the OK Corral”/”The Great Escape”) attempt at making a comedy-western is a stilted effort that seems hung out to dry with nowhere to go but in quicksand, as for the most part the broad physical comedy was flat, the story was ponderous, the basic premise was far too slight and it was overlong. Writer John Gay adapts it from the novel by Bill Gulick. It was shot on location in Gallup, New Mexico, and in the widescreen process called Ultra Panavision 70 (its best feature is how good the scenery looks).
The premise has mining boom city Denver in the approaching winter of 1867 with only a liquor supply to last 10 days. To remedy the situation the town consults respected town drunk Oracle Jones (Donald Pleasence) for help, and he while all “likkered up” tells of a vision to bring 40 wagon-loads of whiskey from Julesburg. The 600 whiskey barrel carrying wagon train is arranged by rabble-rouser Republican distiller Frank Wallingham (Brian Keith). Teetotaling editor Hobbs wires Cora Templeton Massingale (Lee Remick) about the liquor run; she’s an attractive widowed temperance leader leading an unauthorized march at Fort Russell to outlaw whiskey, who then forces Fort Russell commander Colonel Thaddeus Gearhart (Burt Lancaster) to escort her temperance women activists to intercept the whiskey train. The wagon train is under the protection of Captain Paul Slater (Jim Hutton); he’s romancing in a cutesy way Gearhart’s daughter Louise (Pamela Tiffin), who just happens to be part of the temperance movement. In addition to these problems, the Sioux, under their comical chief, Walks-Stooped-Over (Martin Landau), and a Denver citizens’ militia under the direction of Clayton Howell (Dub Taylor) are also heading for the whiskey train. The Sioux want the liquor for themselves and the militia wants to make sure it gets to the thirsty miners. If that wasn’t enough of a situation there’s a wagon train slow-down strike led by Irish teamster Tom Stern (Kevin O’Flaherty), a centerpiece Indian attack, a tremendous sandstorm and a whole lot of confusion. The question remains if the whiskey will get through with all these obstacles.
Generating some laughs through its eccentric characters played by Keith, Landau and Pleasence, the amiable western spoof never caught fire and stumbled along in a clumsy way until it became almost unbearable.
REVIEWED ON 6/11/2006 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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