Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Night of the Hunter (1955) Review

The Night of the Hunter poster
Director: Charles Laughton
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish
Genre: Thriller

The Night of the Hunter is a film about a man who robs $10,000 from a bank and hides the money, telling only his two children where it is and entrusting them to never tell anyone, not even their mother. The man is then arrested and sentenced to death for the murders of two people in the bank.

While in prison he meets a preacher named Harry Powell (Mitchum) who, after being released, goes to the now dead man's home to try and find out where the money is stashed. The entire film is about this preacher trying to get the children to tell him where the money is.

The plot, which is based on the novel of the same name, is actually pretty good. It's simple and easy to follow but leads to many events and varied scenes. 

This is the only film that actor Charles Laughton ever directed. The film was mostly ignored at the time of its release but has since found the recognition that it no doubt deserves.

The cinematography and visuals here are stunning. Though not quite a film noir, it has very many noir qualities and themes. At times it even has a Gothic feel, and the German expressionist influences are quite present. The sets and scenes are all beautiful, whether it be children floating down river at night on a boat, or an angry preacher riding his horse in the distance; it's all beautifully done and very memorable. Let me not forget the perfect use of light and shadows, creating and incredibly sinister atmosphere. 

It's a pretty film to say the least. Charles Laughton should be applauded on his cinematography choices. Take for example the scene where Harry Powell has his tattooed hand parched on the fence post. Or the haunting scene with the dead woman's body at the bottom of the river, hair waving in the water with the seaweed.

Dead woman in the water in The Night of the Hunter

The preacher, Harry Powell, is perhaps one of the most terrifying and memorable antagonists ever. Portrayed excellently by Robert Mitchum, he gives off a creepy and terror-filled vibe that is very similar to many horror films. His hands are tattooed with the word "LOVE" on his right knuckles and "HATE" on his right. A chilling trademark for a chilling character.

Robert Hitchum as the evil preacher Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter

The latter part of the film follows the two children trying to escape from the preacher, and this was one of the few films of the time to give such a large role to children. And I must say the child actors did not disappoint. 

I'd call The Night of the Hunter a borderline horror film, just because of its deliciously evil and memorable antagonist and its creepy atmosphere. Plus it always seems to be night time in this film. There's even an angry mob towards the end, which I'm still not sure what purpose they served.

I can't remember the film having any music besides the songs that were sung by characters in the film. From little girls singing lullabies, to an old woman singing in unison with a serial killer. It's all wonderfully chilling and unsettling, which fits the theme perfectly.

The horse scene in The Night of the Hunter

The film has its flaws. The ending was....really weird. It just didn't fit the feel of the rest of the film, and it almost felt like propaganda the way the lady just looked at the camera. It is a happy ending, but it was just...I really can't describe it, it was just so unsubtle in its delivery. There were also some questionable directorial decisions, but for a directorial debut this film is superb.

It's a classic film that was ahead of its time and one of those films that everyone should watch.

4/5 stars
+Great visuals, cinematography, and atmosphere
+Feared and memorable antagonist
+Memorable scenes
+Chilling soundtrack
-Questionable ending

Purchase The Night of the Hunter on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

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