Acorn Media // 1981 // 355 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 21st, 2009
Bum: "Look here lady, I know my good book."
Emily Ridley: "Which good book is that, young man? Playboy?"
Emily Ridley (Thora Hird, In Loving Memory) is a woman on a mission. She lives in gentle Yorkshire, a fairly ordinary place that most regard as a simple and quiet area. Emily isn't convinced. She firmly believes that Yorkshire is nothing more than a horrifying den of iniquity, and she believes that it is her personal mission to convert each and every citizen to Christianity. Using her position as a Salvation Army Captain as a springboard from which to launch her campaign, she enters the pubs and strip clubs of Yorkshire in an attempt to spread the good word. Not everyone will be converted, but at least she can shame them into donating a bit of cash to the local church. Emily is assisted in her mission by the loopy Sister Alice (Patsy Rowlands, Bless This House) and the bombastic Sister Dorothy (Rosamund Greenwood, The Witches). The complete series is spread across two discs.
Disc One: Season One
* Retirement: Captain Emily Ridley resists retirement from the Salvation
* Repentance: Unexpected trouble awaits Emily in Brighthorpe.
* Counseling: Counseling season confirms Emily's worst fears about the town.
* Poor Box: When her door-to-door collecting fails, Emily turns to the poor box.
* Luncheon Club: Emily starts a Senior Citizens' Luncheon Club with interesting results.
* Mobile Canteen: A mobile soup kitchen doesn't work out quite as intended.
* Struck Down: While Emily recuperates, Alice and Dorothy assume command.
Disc Two: Season Two
* Marching Orders: Emily is ordered to relocate, but where will she go?
* Just a Song at Twilight: The soldiers' home enters a musical competition without having a band.
* Holy Deadlock: Frustrated by her soul-saving efforts, Emily hits the jackpot of original sin.
* The Snake Pit (Part 1): Emily anticipates a long-awaited promotion.
* The Snake Pit (Part 2): Accusations of mismanagement threaten Emily's career.
* Rock Bottom: Alice attempts to save a middle-aged dropout from himself.
* It Happened One Night: The secret life of Emily Ridley is revealed.
* A Goose for Mrs. Scratchitt: A re-imagining of "A Christmas Carol" for Hallelujah! fans.
I'm generally a fan of British comedy television shows, but no country is immune to producing formulaic programs that rely on wheezy jokes and obvious punch lines. Hallelujah! falls somewhere in the same category as the fictional program When the Whistle Blows from Ricky Gervais' Extras. The program is modest entertainment that admittedly provides a few laughs from time to time, but the 15 episodes presented here only have enough ideas and jokes for three or four solid episodes. So, the laughs are reasonably steady early on, but by the time one reaches the conclusion, the whole affair has simply become tedious and repetitive. This is a program that would be best caught every now and then in the middle of the night on PBS. Any single episode can provide a harmless 30-minute chuckle session, but I can't imagine most viewers would be interested in owning the whole thing.
The program's greatest asset is star Thora Hird, who makes Salvation Army Captain Emily Ridley a genuinely likable and amusing character. Her sense of comic timing is nothing short of impeccable, and she single-handedly rescues the program from becoming unforgivable drivel. A staple of British television for decades, Hird had established herself as a comedic master by the time Hallelujah hit the airwaves in the early 1980s. She creates a persona that makes the thin premise far more engaging than it has any right to be. Every time Ridley peers into a den of iniquity and begins working out the inevitable details of their salvation with the Almighty, it's hard not to smile just a little. Many of the show's funniest moments come from Hird's innocently preposterous "conversations with God." "You want me to do what? Well, normally I would never do such a thing, but since you're telling me to, Lord, I suppose I must."
The series was originally scheduled to run for three seasons, but the third season was never filmed for reasons unknown to this reviewer. Unfortunately, the second season ends on something of a cliffhanger that will never be resolved. It's not a huge deal since this isn't generally a long-arc show anyway, but it does leave the viewer with a bitter aftertaste. Additionally, actress Rosamund Greenwood mysteriously disappears after the first season, leaving only Hird and Rowlands to carry the comedic load. There's something missing from the comedy dynamic with only the two women handling things rather than three.
As with many British programs of this era, the transfer is pretty miserable. You're basically getting VHS-quality footage here, with lots of assorted flaws, scratches, and warped images throughout. To the credit of Acorn Media, they do include a disclaimer on the back that the episodes feature audio and video flaws that they were simply unable to correct. The 2.0 audio is pinched and occasionally distorted, and occasionally it becomes a bit difficult to hear dialogue over the laugh track. The only extra included is a text history of the Salvation Army.
Diehard Britcom fans will undoubtedly be pleased to finally have this little-aired series on DVD, but most will find it lacking consistent entertainment value. Pleasant stuff but completely disposable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 355 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Feature