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4.4 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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(Jan 10, 2006)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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 story 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.

Made in 1929, Hallelujah is an artifact of no small historical significance: the first major studio movie with an all-black cast and a white director (the esteemed King Vidor), it was also one of the earliest "talkies" after the silent film era. But it also has considerable artistic merit; simply put, Hallelujah is damned entertaining. Sure, the story isn't exactly subtle, a morality tale chronicling the tribulations of Zeke (Daniel L. Haynes), a poor cotton farmer who, succumbing to the carnal charms of the sexy Chick (Nina Mae McKinney, who was sometimes known as "the black Garbo"), finds himself caught up in a soul-scarring cycle of sin and salvation. There's also some painful dialogue of the "Where is you gwine?" and "Honey, I likes anything you's got!" variety. But the major themes presented here--temptation and transgression, redemption and repentance--are pure and universal, the dancing and singing (including two songs by Irving Berlin) are marvelous, and there are several scenes of extraordinary intensity. Those include Zeke's family's weeping, wailing response to the tragic death of his younger brother, followed by the repentant Zeke's turning to God, a sequence in which he's transformed into a latter day Martin Luther King, Jr., preaching with rhythms and cadences of hypnotic power. DVD extras include audio commentary by historian Donald Bogle, plus two shorts ("Pie, Pie Blackbird" and "The Black Network") featuring McKinney's singing, Eubie Blake's music, and the Nicholas Brothers' dance moves. A final note: Victoria Spivey, who portrays Missy Rose, the down home girl devoted to Zeke, was also one of the finest blues singers of the time. When she underwent a career revival in the early 1960s, she formed a record label whose first recording featured accompaniment by none other than Bob Dylan. --Sam Graham

Special Features

  • Two vintage musical shorts featuring the Nicholas Brothers and Hallelujah costar Nina Mae McKinney: "Pie, Pie Blackbird" (also with Eubie Blake) and "The Black Network"
  • Theatrical trailer

Product Details

  • Actors: Daniel L. Haynes, Nina Mae McKinney, William Fountaine, Harry Gray, Fanny Belle DeKnight
  • Directors: King Vidor, Roy Mack
  • Writers: King Vidor, A. Dorian Otvos, Marian Ainslee, Ransom Rideout, Richard Schayer
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: January 10, 2006
  • Run Time: 100 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000BNTME6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,128 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Hallelujah" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alejandra Vernon HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 24, 2004
Format: VHS Tape
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.
Read more ›
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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.
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Format: VHS Tape
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)
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Format: VHS Tape
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!!!
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