The Night of the Hunter (USA, 1955)

night 2Directed by: Charles Laughton. This thing is ridiculous. You should all go watch it right now. A singularly interesting movie. A compelling, dark, nightmarish story. A beautiful piece of textbook “classic” cinema, full of dark shadows and distorted, rich scenery (it says here that it’s called German Expressionism). This film is one of those examples of “pure cinema,” something vaguely denoting to me everything that makes people love cinema in the first place. The Night of the Hunter is full of memorable scenes and memorable characters and memorable dialogue, but more importantly, memorable images. This movie combines pictures and sound in such a masterful way and creates scenes so striking that they will surface in your dreams for days. It’s also striking just how bizarre this film really is. Even today, how often do you see a film where the main character is not the protagonist? We spend most of the first two acts following Robert Mitchum as the demented, murderous faux-preacher, disturbing in his twisted conviction and outright horrifying in his brute physicality. The focus only switches fully to the children’s point of view in the third act, and by then the film is made more unique by the introduction of silent start Lillian Gish as the deus-ex-machina: a gun toting granny looking after orphans. The ending truly does seem too good to be true—great shot, granny! This film lacks the bravery to follow through with the darkness that carries it for the majority of its running time, in a way that, say, Psycho does follow through with by not offering a completely satisfactory resolution at the end. This film was certainly constrained by the limits of its time, but it truly is a precursor to many modern films in the way that it builds such a truly repulsive leading character and makes him so attractive that you can’t help but watch him for 2 hours, and think about him long after. Also, I want more Shelley Winters!

One response to “The Night of the Hunter (USA, 1955)

  1. Pingback: Hobson’s Choice (UK, 1954) | Offhand Reviews·

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