John Sturges was responsible for some truly classic westerns Escape From Fort Bravo (1954), Gunfight at The OK Corral (1957), The Law and Jake Wade (1958) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). In this movie he turns his hand to comedy with the adaptation of Bill Gulick’s novel, The Hallelujah Trail.
During his career Sturges directed John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Kirk Douglas, Spencer Tracy, Rock Hudson and Frank Sinatra, to name but a few, and his cast for this movie is pretty impressive too. Burt Lancaster takes the lead alongside Lee Remick , Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau and Jim Hutton.
The inhabitants of a mining town in Denver are concerned that their alcohol supply will run out before the harsh winter weather kicks in. They have a willing volunteer in the guise of local businessman Frank Wallingham (Brian Keith) who is prepared to set out to bring 40 wagons of whiskey through enemy territory. Unbeknownst to him, the enemy isn’t just the Sioux tribe led by Chief Walks-Stooped-Over (Martin Landau), they also have to negotiate the ladies from the Temperance movement, led by Cora Templeton Massingale (Lee Remick).
The cavalry rides in to help, with Col Thadeus Gearhart (Burt Lancaster) at its head and the miners for who the cargo is destined for don’t want to leave anything to chance so they set out to lend their assistance with Oracle Jones (Donald Pleasance) – part drunkard, part soothsayer – leading them. Naturally, chaos ensues and the humour is drawn from the clashes between these disparate groups, most of whom want to get their hands on the alcohol to either drink it or dispose of it.
There’s great chemistry between Lancaster and Remick. It’s unusual to see Lancaster in such a humorous role, but he pulls it off. The supporting cast does a good job, especially Donald Pleasance and Martin Landau. With Robert Surtees behind the camera the cinematography is lush making the western landscapes (it was shot in Gallup, New Mexico) eye-watering attractive.