Hallelujah! (1929)

“Look, son: the Lord has sent an angel to show you the way.”

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Synopsis:
A humble cotton farmer (Daniel Haynes) is seduced by a gambling vamp (Nina Mae McKinney), then repents for his sins by becoming an itinerant preacher.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this landmark all-black film (made and financed by white director King Vidor) is actually rather dull. In addition, it unfortunately helped to establish the offensive stereotype that rural blacks are happy living in poverty simply because of their deep religious faith. Nonetheless, the film is worth checking out for its historical status, as well as to watch Nina Mae McKinney’s truly electric performance as the wily femme fatale.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nina Mae McKinney as the beautiful, seductive, deceptive Chick
    Nina Mae McKinney
  • Mammy Johnson (Fannie Belle DeKnight) singing a lullaby as she rocks one of her children to sleep

Must See?
Yes, simply for its status as the first all-black film to come out of Hollywood.

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One Response to “Hallelujah! (1929)”

  1. Yes, a must – but not only because it’s “the first all-black film to come out of Hollywood.” It creaks at times, and there are moments some will find unintentionally funny. But, even though it’s very much of its time, it’s actually a well-made and well-acted film – often moving, as well.

    I had seen it before and was impressed with director Vidor’s storytelling. What I didn’t realize (until just seeing the recent DVD release and hearing the insightful commentary) was that Vidor had wanted to make a film like this for years, had been very acquainted with the subject matter, and (though the result was ‘safe’ in some respects) went to great lengths toward accuracy.

    Strong sequences (usu. involving crowds): the ‘Swanee Shuffle’ number; Zeke’s conversion; the very impressive baptism-at-the-river scene; the stirring revival meeting.

    And, yes, though it’s bound to get a laugh every time (and maybe that’s not a bad thing), McKinney – in a terrific performance – has the best line, when she beats up her ‘sinful’ former lover and exclaims: “That’s what I’m doing to anybody that stands in my path to glory!”

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