Hallelujah is a cinematic milestone: the first all-black feature from a major studio and famed director King Vidor's (The Champ, The Big Parade) first talkie. But the film surpasses its historical significance, telling a s... more »tory of such profound dignity and understanding that it as fresh and moving as the day it premiered. Featuring a largely unknown cast and infused with spirituals, folk songs, blues and jazz (Irving Berlin provided two songs for the production), Hallelujah follows the fortunes of Zeke (Daniel L. Haynes), a poor cotton farmer. He succumbs to the temptations of Chick (Nina Mae McKinney), a mercenary honky-tonk girl, finds salvation in religion, and falls again when his obsession for Chick overpowers his better self. Love, loss, passion, redemption and brilliant moviemaking: Hallelujah has it all.« less
Alejandra Vernon | Long Beach, California | 04/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first all-African American feature film ever made, "Hallelujah!" was also King Vidor's first "talkie," and one that he was willing to forfeit his salary for in order to make. Those who might be troubled by "racial stereotypes" are failing to see the exquisite beauty of this film, and its place in cultural history; it is an astounding film for all Americans, especially those of African descent, to watch and be proud of. A melodramatic morality tale, it is about a naive cotton farmer who falls into the net of a pretty but corrupt girl, and his rocky road from sin to redemption. It also shows the hardship of the life of a sharecropper; the wrenching poverty and backbreaking labor, as well as the faith to survive it all.
Daniel L. Haynes is extraordinary as Zeke. Had he been born 50 years later, he would no doubt have been a major world superstar. Incredibly handsome and charismatic, he was also blessed with a marvelous voice, and great acting ability. Thank goodness this film exists, as a remembrance of his enormous talent. The other members of the cast are also excellent, with Nina Mae McKinney as the seductive Chick and Fanny Belle DeKnight, as Mammy Johnson, Zeke's mother who never gives up hope for her wayward son. The scene where Mammy holds the children in her arms and sings a lullaby is one that moves me to tears; this is a film that expresses much love, and the best of human characteristics.
The music is glorious, combining spirituals like "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" with songs like Irving Berlin's "Waiting at the End of the Road," and there are also some superb dance numbers. I was particularly delighted by the short but well executed sand soft shoe in the bar scene, a style that started in the early 1910s during the minstrel shows. Tap dancing has its roots in slavery, and the history of this unique American art form is fascinating; anyone interested in the evolution of American dance will love this film. The b&w cinematography by Gordon Avil is crisp and uses stark contrasts, and for the most part, there is little evidence of its age. Coming from the same era, and with similar themes of good and evil, this film shares a kinship with the DuBose Heyward and Gershwin versions of "Porgy and Bess." Total running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes."
Moving Depiction of Human Weakness and Redemption
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 01/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Warner Brothers prior to the film issues a disclaimer apologizing for racial stereotypes depicted in "Hallelujah" that could be potentially offensive to modern audiences. I cannot pretend to speak for the African-American community but I cannot imagine anybody being offended by King Vidor's film which affirms the sanctity of faith, fidelity, and family. The film follows the personal odyssey of Zeke (Daniel L. Haynes) a decent cotton farmer who tries to lead a good life but is waylaid at various junctures by the temptress, Chick(Nina Mae McKinney) with tragic consequences. Zeke succeeds at one point in the religious ministry only to have Chick scuttle that endeavor. Credit Vidor for recognizing that his characters are essentially good people with flaws that are inherent to everybody. Haynes does a superlative job portraying a man whose moral and religious fibre is constantly being tested. The real revelation here is McKinney, though. Aside from being a visual stunner she manages to engender sympathy for a character saddled with the "Eve" role. What is more amazing is that McKinney was only 16 years old when she tackled this complex character. The film is an accomplishment unto itself but what makes this disc indispensible is the inclusion of two short subjects featuring McKinney and the young Nicholas Brothers."
A unique glimpse of black music in the 1920s
David Baldwin | 01/16/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I would broadly agree with the Maltin review quoted here; but it's worth commenting on the musical side. The film gives, in some sections, a remarkably authentic representation of black entertainment and relgous music in the 1920s, which no other film achieves. Unfortunately some of the sequences are rather Europeanised and over-arranged. For example, the outdoor revival meeting, with the preacher singing and acting out the 'Train to hell', is entirely authentic in style until the end, where he launches into the popular song 'Waiting at the End of the Road'. Similarly, an outdoor group of workers singing near the beginning of the film are saddled with a choral arangement of 'Way Down upon the Swanee River'(written by Stephen Foster, who never went anywhere near the South) - no black workers would sing that!. The best sequence is the dancehall, where Nina Mae McKinney gives a stunning performance of 'Swanee Shuffle' - just the right sort of popular song; although actually filmed in a New York studio using black actors, the sequence gives the most accurate representation I've ever seen of a low-life black dance-hall -part of the roots of classic jazz. Nothing else on film comes near this: most Hollywood films sanitize black music out of all recognition; and later, in the 1930s, when black artists began to show their real styles, jazz had moved on to become more sophisticated and the whole style of behaviour had changed. All this makes the film a unique document: and it's worth adding that the soundtrack is a remarkable achievement, given the primitive equipment available at the time, using a much wider range of editing and mixing techniques than is generally thought to have been used so early on in talkies. (Reviewed by Roger Wilmut)"
One of the most beautiful religious movies...
Lee E. | Arkansas | 10/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For an all black movie made by a white director in 1929 I kind of expect to see ignorance or all-out racism in the film. I couldn't have been more wrong. This is easily one of the most provactive movies on religion I have ever had the pleasure of watching. It peaks during it's sermon scenes. There are times when King Vidor lingers on the faces of men and women, raptured with God; or an even more beautiful scene of young black children waving little American flags. This movie is about Zeke (man) who after accidently killing his brother finds God and becomes a preacher. But Temptation and the Devil is just around the corner in the form Chick and her sugar daddy, Hot Shot. Poor Zeke and Chick go back and forth, running to and then abandoning God. Victoria Spivey plays Missy Rose, a girl that loves Zeke. Missy Rose is the embodiment of God, loving Zeke, mourning him when he leaves her, and then rejoicing when he returns. When Zeke asks Missy Rose if she remembers him and she replies: "Of course, Zeke. I love you so much, I would never forget you." This scene in itself is enough to bring tears to a person's eyes. King Vidor and his movie Hallelujah was light years ahead of his time. Simply beautiful!!!"
Ms. 90 | Maryland | 06/23/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"What a gem of a movie! I purchased it only because I wanted to see more of Nina Mae McKinney and it was certainly worth it. The extra footage of the Nicholas brothers makes this one a keeper!"