The Hallelujah Trail (1965)

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Released 18-Aug-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Western Theatrical Trailer-2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:05)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1965
Running Time 149:07
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (76:03) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Sturges
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Burt Lancaster
Lee Remick
Jim Hutton
Pamela Tiffin
Donald Pleasence
Brian Keith
Martin Landau
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $14.95 Music Elmer Bernstein


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.55:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Polish
Hungarian
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits and after credits (exit music)

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The name John Sturges brings instant recognition as a result of some great films like Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. The Hallelujah Trail is not one of those great films. What it is, however, is a rather amusing, if slightly overlong, comedy western that I have seen quite a few times and have always enjoyed. It is not the sort of comedy to cause serious bouts of out-loud laughter, but rather the sort to cause modest little chuckles. The end result might not be classic stuff but is stuff that I can watch with reasonable frequency and enjoy a heck of a lot more than a lot of the garbage produced nowadays.

    The story is set in November, 1867, in the western plains between Julesburg and Denver, Colorado. Colonel Thaddeus Gearhart (Burt Lancaster) is commanding officer at Fort Russell and is about to be beset upon from all sides. Returning from a patrol, he finds the Fort taken over by temperance crusader Cora Templeton Massingale (Lee Remick). This unexpected happening, which includes the contributions of the Fort's band and its cannons, does not enthral Colonel Gearhart. He is further disappointed to discover his daughter, Louise (Pamela Tiffin), is falling under the spell of Mrs Massingale, as well as Captain Paul Slater (Jim Hutton). But things are not going to get any easier for Colonel Gearhart. To the southwest, problems are a-brewing in Denver - winter is nigh and the saloons are almost out of whiskey. So the local saloon owners organise a wagon train of whiskey through Julesburg businessman Frank Wallingham (Brian Keith). Keeping news of forty wagons of whiskey quiet is near impossible and soon the local Indian tribes are arguing over who is going to go after this treasure trove. Keeping news of forty wagons of whiskey away from Cora Templeton Massingale is definitely impossible, especially when Frank Wallingham, a taxpayer and good Republican, demands an army escort - provided by of course... The local saloon owners also know that the Indians will be after their precious cargo, and so form a militia to go out and escort the wagon train into town - led by whiskey-loving local guide Oracle Jones (Donald Pleasance). The point at which all these interested parties meet is where the Battle of Whiskey Hills takes place - the most inept battle ever waged.

    The story I readily admit is no award winner, and the film could quite profitably have lost anything up to thirty minutes of running time rather easily, but this is not a film that needs character development or any great depth. This is all about taking just about every element of the classic western (barring the shoot-out in the main street) and whilst not exactly spoofing it, at least taking the Mickey out of it. A solid cast do the job well and some very nice cinematography catches all the best of the magnificent country in which the film was shot.

    The whole thing is a pleasant romp that might not quite sustain the length that director John Sturges gave it, but does not fall that far short. With nice performances from all the main cast, this really is a nice film to return to every so often for the sheer heck of it.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. The film was originally shot anamorphically in Ultra Panavision, which gives a negative ratio of 2.75:1. I doubt that it was actually displayed theatrically in that ratio, but there is a chance that it was shown at a ratio of 2.55:1 in some theatres. I have absolutely no idea whether that presumption is correct, but there is a chance that this release is only partially in its original theatrical ratio.

    So we are talking about a budget release from MGM Home Entertainment, an organisation that has copped a lot of flak for its cheap and nasty approach to many of its releases. You were therefore expecting something sensational here? Not a chance. Whilst I am not one of those who criticise MGM for their approach to releases (which by the way is not confined to just our region), it would be nice if some of the source material used was a little better. Still, generally better something than nothing at all - this title for instance was amongst a batch of twelve titles I bought in one lot (funnily enough with quite a few of them featuring Burt Lancaster), all for under $13. Some of the films might not be to everyone's tastes, but certainly I am generally glad to have them on DVD, even if they don't exactly set the world on fire in terms of transfer quality.

    This one sure does not set the world on fire for quality at times. Whilst it is generally pretty good, there are enough obvious flaws at times to detract from the enjoyment of the film. Sharpness, however, is generally very good, with only the dust storm giving any real issues (and this is of course inherent in the source material), and definition being good. Shadow detail is pretty good all things considered, with only a couple of scenes where you really notice a lack of obvious detail. There is not an awful lot of grain present and even when noted it is hardly that intrusive.

    This is quite a vibrant transfer, although the overall palette of colours is very earthy and quite dusty. This of course is exactly the way it should be and the result is a really great visual feel of the time (mid-November) and the location (the western part of the plains, heading into the Rockies). Blacks could perhaps have benefited from a bit more consistency and depth, but balancing that is some great detail so that dusty uniforms for instance have a lot of subtlety to them. Rather nice stuff all things considered for a budget release.

    There is a rather constant problem with some pixelization in the backgrounds at times, which couples with perhaps some low level noise, and contributes to a slightly disappointing look. There is also some inherent lack of resolution in movement in the source material too. Other than that though, there is little obvious indication of any significant MPEG artefacting in the transfer. There is also a rather constant problem with aliasing in the transfer and sooner rather than later it is bound to grab your attention. Just about any straight line is prone to the problem, which means that reins (for instance) always lack solidity (such as at 122:48). Probably the worst instance of the problem is on the wagon at 48:20 and it is almost unwatchable for a brief period. This is indicative of the lack of attention to detail that is the most annoying thing about some of these budget MGM releases. Since the source material is forty years old and unrestored, there are plenty of film artefacts to be seen - and see them you will. Some are simply huge and cannot be ignored, such as the print damage to the left hand side of the picture between 120:00 and 123:00.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 76:03. It is pretty obvious where it is hidden - in the intermission between the music finishing and the entr'acte music starting again. As such, it is ideally placed and completely non-disruptive, no matter how bad your player is with layer changes.

    Subtitle options run to seven on the disc, with the English for the Hearing Impaired efforts being generally quite good. A few pieces of dialogue are dropped here and there, but generally nothing too important.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are five six channel soundtracks on the DVD, with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 effort being at the full bitrate of 448 Kb/s. The others - German, French, Italian and Spanish - are all 384 Kb/s bitrate soundtracks. Naturally enough I stuck with listening to the English soundtrack.

    Naturally enough for a remaster from what was presumably a stereo source in less than pristine condition, there is some variability in the soundtrack but overall the dialogue comes up well and is easy enough to understand. Apart from what would appear to be the odd sloppy piece of ADR work, there are no audio sync problems in the transfer.

    Elmer Bernstein provides the original music score and it is a very good one indeed - possibly the best thing about the film. Whilst certainly offering some reminders from other films, as well as a lot of generic western sounds, the whole potpourri mixes together extremely well and provides its own distinctive character to the film. The strength of the score can be easily demonstrated by the lengthy entr'acte and exit music that plays at the start and conclusion of the film, over a blank screen.

    The merits of the six channel soundtrack are not especially great. If you ever want to get into an argument over the merit of taking stereo soundtracks and converting them into six channel soundtracks, this is probably a good example to justify your argument. I am not entering into any discussion as to why MGM chose to remaster the soundtrack into six channels given the lack of quality everywhere else in the release. I cannot say that the soundtrack does a fat lot for me, as it still seems to be very frontal in basis, with little more than the occasional ambience noticed in the rears. At times the front sound is not well defined and seems a tad congested, which gives it a distinctly stereo feel. It has been cleaned up fairly well and there is little obvious hiss - at least at normal listening levels.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Remember what I said earlier...

Menus

    Pretty basic stuff, and nothing very special.

Theatrical Trailer (2:05)

    Crikey, is this pretty crap looking! Very soft in appearance, with extremely poor definition and extremely well blighted by film artefacts. This looks its age and even more. Indeed, this is so bad looking, I truly do not know why they even bothered including it on the DVD. The presentation is in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 that is not 16x9 enhanced, accompanied by some rather average Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It would appear that there is little substantive difference between the Region 4 release and those offered in Region 1 and Region 2. We get a very ropey trailer but Region 1 gets a different combination of soundtracks and subtitles. The sole review located of the Region 1 release would however suggest that they get an even worse transfer than we do: this however is by no means confirmed. Call it even for now, as the theatrical trailer hardly constitutes anything substantive given how crappy it looks.

Summary

    The Hallelujah Trail is an enjoyable enough romp that does not take itself too seriously. It could probably have done with some drastic cuts to reduce its running length, but we can only trust in the director's intents here. Whilst the transfers are not too bad, they certainly are not without problem and a distinct lack of attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the presentation on DVD. One for the fans rather than the average punter.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, December 27, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
The Hallellujah Trail OAR - Terry
Laugh-out-loud funny!! - Billycan