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Film / The Hallelujah Trail

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"Buffalo were feeding ravenously. Beaver were damming and storing with strange vigor. Horses and dogs were becoming shaggy-haired as never before. And it could be sensed in the booming, bustling mining town of Denver. Most historians agree that the events leading to the Battle of Whiskey Hills and the subsequent disaster at Quicksand Bottoms began here in Denver at a miners' meeting..."

Before A Million Ways to Die in the West... before Blazing Saddles... even before Support Your Local Sheriff... there was The Hallelujah Trail.

The year is 1867, and the mining town of Denver is facing a crisis: All the signs are pointing to the coming winter being long, and hard, and they are running out of whiskey! Hoping to resupply before the winter snows make it impossible, the town saloon owners pool their resources to bring in one last wagon train loaded with booze.

The wagon train immediately draws the attention of every Indian within hundreds of miles, as well as the Women's Temperance League. A cavalry troop is dispatched to protect the wagon train. Temperance leader Mrs. Cora Massingale inspires a band of women to set out to intercept the wagon train and destroy its cargo. A second troop of cavalry is dispatched to protect the women. The Denver Miners' Militia is formed to go out and meet up with the wagon train, and protect it from the Indians, and the women. A group of wagons, driven by members of the Irish Teamsters' Union, breaks away from the main train, until their labor demands can be met.

All these groups come together in the middle a blinding sandstorm, and Hilarity Ensues.

Interestingly enough, this 1965 laugh riot was directed by John Sturges, the man who gave us The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. And, like those films, it features a music score by Elmer Bernstein. The cast includes Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Jim Hutton, Pamela Tiffin, Donald Pleasence, Brian Keith, and Martin Landau.

This film provides examples of:

  • A-Team Firing: Lamp Shaded by Col. Gearhart, after the Battle of Whiskey Hills, in which there were no fatalites, nor was anyone badly wounded:
    Col. Gearhart: It's a miracle — A miracle of the highest order that so many bullets could miss so many people in so small an area in such a short space of time.
  • Bathtub Scene: For both Col. Gearheart and Cora Massingale.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Col. Gearhart (Burt Lancaster) and Cora Massingale (Lee Remick).
  • Blatant Lies: Col. Gearhart when defining what he means by "detached contact," which he claims was well known throughout the Civil War.
  • Catchphrase: Wagon train owner Frank Wallingham (Brian Keith) is quick to point out to everyone he meets that he's "a taxpayer and a good Republican." (to the point of Col. Gearhart threatening to punch him in the face if he says it just once more)
  • Cigar Chomper: Col. Gearhart.
  • Colonel Badass: Col. Thaddeus Gearhart (Burt Lancaster)
  • The Determinator: Nothing is going to stop Cora Massingale (Lee Remick) from destroying that whiskey - or bagging Col. Gearhart.
  • Dry Crusader: Cora Massingale and her Women's Temperance League.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: During poor Col. Gearheart's Bathtub Scene, Cora mostly keeps professional, but even she can't seem to resist glancing a bit while fighting a smirk. The colonel's resigned to it.
  • Either "World Domination", or Something About Bananas: The cavalry's sign language interpreter usually gets the gist of what's being said, but he makes a few critical errors.
  • Epic Movie: 2 hours and 40 minutes long, with an overture and intermission. Filmed in Ultra Panavision and presented in Cinerama.
  • Exposition Diagram: The Narrator would use animated maps showing the movements of the various groups involved, until the situation got so confused that even the maps didn't help.
  • The Fettered: The army regiment under Col. Gearheart. Exploited by the Women's Temperance League, which makes plans to march to Denver; a portion of the regiment is dispatched to go with them because otherwise the women would march alone through hostile Indian territory.
  • Heroic Seductress / Femme Fatale: Depending on whether you're on her side or not. Cora seems to love using her sexuality to get Col. Gearheart to agree to her requests. At one point, she massages a hangover out of him, in a very...suggestive manner. While leaning over him in bed.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Col. Gearhart's reaction to Cora Massengale in general. At one point, she actually joins him.
  • Junkie Prophet: Oracle Jones (Donald Pleasence) gets visions of the future, but only after having a few drinks of whiskey.
    There, now I see it!
  • The Lancer: Capt. Paul Slater (Jim Hutton), Col. Gearhart's second in command.
  • Leitmotif: Nearly every movement in the film's famous "overture" besides the main theme turns out to be this. In order, there's a flute-and-drums theme for the Denver Free Militia, a brass-laden theme for Col. Gearheart's cavalry, a sweeping "big sky" theme for wide shots of traveling the land, a playful piccolo-and-guitar theme for Oracle Jones, and "Stand Up, We'll March To Denver" for Cora and the Temperance League.
  • Meaningful Name: Col. Gearheart, whose dry but orderly life is thrown into chaos by Cora Massengale, who also throws his system entirely out of whack. A gear is also metallic, and so his name could be also interpreted as Metal-heart, not unfitting for a man who usually tries to keep his emotions in check like the Colonel.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Col. Gearheart in the bathtub, for Cora. Bit of a Reluctant Fanservice Guy, but he tiredly resigns himself to it.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Cora in the bathtub. And she's not above smirkingly rubbing it in for the poor colonel....
  • Music for Courage: Cora and the women singing during the sandstorm.
  • Narrator: Veteran western character actor John Dehner provides an ongoing commentary on the supposed historical context surrounding events, sometimes including maps and arrows to help the viewer keep track of just where everyone is.
  • Not So Above It All: The fashionable, proper, and civilized Cora Massengale still can't resist checking out Col. Gearheart in the latter's Bathtub scene...and later, ah-hem, returning the favor....
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Walks-Stooped-Over (Martin Landau) sub-chief of the Sioux Indians, and their main negotiator. After spending the whole movie communicating in badly translated sign language, and listening in as the cavalry officers discuss their plans in English, believing that he doesn't understand them, it is revealed that he speaks English perfectly well.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: Done deliberately by the soldiers and accidentally by Col. Gearhart, who just wasn't paying attention where he was walking.
    • Please Put Some Clothes On: In response to the above, Col. Gearhart sheepishly makes this request to Cora, as the men are being...distracted. Cora essentially shrugs it off and goes on to tease him a bit for his troubles....
  • Quicksand Sucks: Leads to the disaster at Quicksand Bottoms.
  • Technically a Smile: Col. Gearhart.
  • Trail Of Breadcrumbs: Oracle Jones stakes out a safe path through Quicksand Bottoms with torn up strips of his red long-johns. Then Cora Massingale and the ladies of Group C move his stakes.
  • Weddings for Everyone: The final scene is a double wedding, between Capt. Slater and Louise Gearhart, and Col. Gearhart and Cora Massingale.
  • Weird Trade Union: The Irish Teamsters', with their long list of labor demands.
  • The Wild West