Monday, February 4, 2008

The Night of the Hunter

"The Night Of the Hunter" (Charles Laughton, 1955) One of the most stylized, creepiest movies ever made--the only one ever directed by actor Charles Laughton--"The Night of the Hunter" tells the story of an almost-elementally corrupt minister who comes to town seeking fortune by seducing and murdering the wife and terrifying the children of his old cell-mate, and tells it in the manner of a magical fairy tale. As two of the targets of the Rev.'s obsessions are the impressionable children of Willa Harper (Shelley Winters), the film becomes a battle between Good and Evil as seen through their eyes. The Good is represented by the Grandmother, played forthrightly by silent film star Lillian Gish. The Evil is the right Rev. Harry Powell, who strides into town with the conflicts in his soul tatooed on his fists. It's a bravura performance by Robert Mitchum, who wasn't known for bravura performances, usually satisfied maintaining a laconic air to get by. Here he brays and exhorts like a bull and it's an amazing thing to see so theatrical a performance out of him--in fact, it's the role he's best remembered for. The film itself is a creepy blend of reality and fantasy, of realism and theatricality and the clashes of those sensibilities jar one's attention, while burrowing into the soft places of one's skull. Despite poor box-office and crtical pans when it opened in 1955, "The Night of the Hunter" abides. It abides and it endures.

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