Elmer Bernstein scored four films for director John Sturges. Two of the films and scores are classics - The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. Another (McQ) is fondly remembered. One is rather forgotten - The Hallelujah Trail, a rather silly western comedy (its tagline was "How the West Was Fun!") starring Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Donald Pleasance and other familiar faces. Its lighthearted nature led to composer Bernstein writing a virtual self-parody for the score's orchestral sections, but these are rather overshadowed by the choral music, with lyrics by Ernie Sheldon.
From the first track, these pieces dominate the album experience (though not its running time, admittedly). They are something of an acquired taste, and I'm not sure I've really acquired the taste: very daft, sung by full chorus, they're the sort of thing that would quickly have you turning the volume right down if anyone entered the room in case they heard you listening to them. Certainly, they're full of a sense of fun, and the score's main theme, sung in the first cue on the album, is extremely catchy. Indeed, it is so catchy - and heard so frequently over the course of the album, in virtually every track - it's difficult to resist walking away whistling it once the album has finished, and becoming rather irritated to so - it's so bright and breezy as to verge on being annoying.
The score is at its best when it becomes less overtly comedic. While a cue like "The Chase" is still quite obviously from a farcical comedy, it at least has a sense of drama which keeps the music going along and makes it one of the album's high points. The absolute high water mark is the lovely, touching "Whiskey, Love and Temperance", featuring a beautiful violin solo. By far the best of the (orchestral) arrangements of the main theme comes in the Overture, an excellent Bernstein piece. Don't get me wrong - this is fun music, dominated as Bernstein scores almost invariably were by strong melody and a great sense of charming enthusiasm; it just can't really hold up with Bernstein's exceptional music for more serious westerns.
It's a long way from being classic Bernstein, but does still have enough highlights to make it a recommended purchase for the late composer's fans. (James Southall)
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