The Night of the Hunter Reviews
A jailed religious fanatic is told the tale from his prison mate of $10,000 he robbed and hid that only his children know where it remains. The inmate dies and the fanatic is released from prison. He hunts down the widow of the inmate and marries her. The religious fanatic will stop at nothing to convince the children to tell him where the money is.
"I'm a strong tree with branches for many birds."
Charles Loughton, director of The Man on the Eiffel Tower, delivers The Night of the Hunter. The storyline for this picture is very compelling with numerous thrilling aspects. The acting is mesmerizing and the script is so clever and intense. I adored how the story came together and Robert Mitchum was brilliant as the main character. The cast also includes Shelley Winter, Peter Graves, Billy Chapin, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, and Don Beddoe.
"I'm the one your mother believes."
I came across this some time ago on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and had to DVR it. I loved how intense and consistent Mitchum was throughout the movie. There were some chances for some awkward moments, but Mitchum's character twisted and turned like a fish. I strongly recommend seeing this underrated classic.
"You poor, disgusting, little wretch."
Robert Mitchum is famously menacing in this movie. Mitchum had a special brand of menacing, with his eyes half-open, as if his sociopathy ran so deep, he could barely stay awake while he murdered you. His Reverend Powell is chillingly seamless in shifting from murderous threats to sonorous righteousness. Mitchum holds back his rage, always playing the long game, always in control of his emotions, always focused on his objective. Truly one of the great villains in movie history.
But Laughton's expressionistic style puts a bit of a Brechtian gloss on the immediate menace in the story. The beauty of the exquisite frame compositions belie the terrifying stakes of the story it's telling. It gives the viewer a chance to catch his breath, something few good thrillers let the viewer do (or if they do, it's to set up a boogeyman with a chainsaw around the next corner). The pacing is deliberate and patient, but never dragging. There is a reason few thrillers pace themselves in this way, and such pacing can easily backfire on a director. But happily, Laughton had enough faith in his vision to maintain its pacing, and it results in a unique cinematic experience.
In the end, all it took to defeat Reverend Powell is for someone to see him for what he is, and Lillian Gish's Rachel Cooper was such a person. One suspects that a real life Powell would have no problem overpowering an old woman half his size, and wouldn't depend on a little switchblade when looking into the barrel of a rifle. But this movie is part thriller, part allegory. The characters aren't realistic, they represent archetypes. I generally prefer movies about breathing humans rather than allegorical types, but this movie is so visually gorgeous and emotionally engrossing, it earns the latitude of figurative representation.
In one of her charming little homilies, Rachel Cooper sweetly asserts that "Children abide." It's a comforting notion that hungry little children alone in the world manage to survive, that the Lord looks after children and drunks. But it's not true. Children starve all the time. That is a cold hard fact. Despite her assertions, Rachel knows that, which is why she unhesitatingly takes in two more children in need. She is the angel of this story. A quick glance around the world reveals that angels are in desperately short supply these days.
So, kind of boring. And the little girl was a bit annoying and selfish. Even I didn't care what happened to the little boy. They both were pretty annoying characters trying to escape from a dad who's killed his own wife and now they're alone, trying to live a happy life. Performance of cute Pearl was adequate.
So in my mind not a classic, but an important film nonetheless in terms of influence.
But the film's melodramatic plot plays second fiddle to some beautifully shot images. Director Charles Laughton & cinematographer Stanley Cortez incorporates a luminosity that recalls shots commonly found in great films from the silent era.
The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers, hanged in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The film's lyric and expressionistic style with its leaning on the silent era sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, and it has influenced later directors such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers.
In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The influential film magazine Cahiers du cinéma selected The Night of the Hunter in 2008 as the second-best film of all time, only behind Citizen Kane.
This independently produced film was sadly promoted the wrong way by distributers United Artists, the film was a commercial flop which put off actor Charles Laughton from directing again.