Hallelujah! (1929)

Hallelujah! (1929)

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

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.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African Americans
  • Christianity
  • Deep South
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Gambling
  • King Vidor Films
  • Musicals

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 “established many negative black stereotypes that would become common in the white cinema”, and “was the first to contend that black people were happy living in isolation (from whites), in ignorance, and in poverty because they have religion to fall back on.”

Nonetheless, the film is worth checking out for its historical status, as well as to see Nina Mae McKinney’s truly electric performance as a wily femme fatale — a “hip-swaying, sexually uninhibited tigress” who “would serve as [a] model for numerous black vamps in years to come, including those played by Dorothy Dandridge.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nina Mae McKinney as the beautiful, seductive, deceptive Chick
  • 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.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “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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