Saturday, March 31, 2012


Hallelujah! is another one of those movies that for some reason, I thought I had already blogged about. I was wrong. It's a movie that shows up all too rarely on TCM, but it's finally showing up again at 10:00 PM tonight. If you haven't seen it before, it's well worth the watch. To be honest, it's amazing that Hallelujah! even got made at all. It's an all-black movie at a major studio (MGM), made in 1929. That, of course, is a time when the studios simply weren't making any such movies and the blacks who did show up in movies were the hired help. Director King Vidor, in fact, had to put up a good deal of the money himself to make the picture. All that historical value by itself would make Hallelujah! more than worthy of viewing.

But, in fact, Hallelujah! isn't a bad movie, despite having some flaws. Although it's got an all-black cast, in many ways it can be seen as a sort of morality play about an everyman, much like Cabin in the Sky. That everyman is Zeke (played by Daniel Haynes). He's the eldest son in a family of sharecroppers, and after the harvest, he's given the job of taking the harvest to the cotton mill to get the family's income for the year. Unfortunately, he meets Chick (Nina Mae McKinney), a temptress who pursues him and eventually leads Zeke to lose all his money in a craps game, and then get in a shooting match that winds up with Zeke's younger brother Spike getting shot accidentally and killed.

The result of all this is that Zeke has a crisis of conscience and decides to turn to God to try to repent for his sins. I've read that converts can be some of the most fervent believers, and Zeke's charismatic preaching leads to his gaining a modicum of fame as well as a revival tour which makes him and his family rather more comfortable than they were as sharecroppers. And then Chick shows up again, claiming to seek salvation and wanting to be "born again". Even men of the cloth suffer from temptation and have human failings. Will things work out for the best for Zeke and Chick's souls?

As I mentioned, Hallelujah! has some flaws. A lot of them are technical: the movie having been made in 1929, sound technology for motion pictures was not as quite high-quality as it would later become. This can make the movie a bit difficult to follow at times. Also, you have to wonder whether some of the scenes, particularly of singing sharecroppers, are realistic or portraying to stereotypes. As with a lot of the race pictures, the acting is uneven, since there was a smaller pool of actors to choose from and many of them had done no screen work prior to this. That having been said, the two leads both do amazing jobs, even if the everyman theme causes them to be exaggerated at times.

Hallelujah! has, thankfully, received a DVD release.

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