Night Of The Hunter (1955), or The Terrible Lightness Of Being

6 07 2009

Thanks for another recommendation, Goregirl! You’re a top-notch reviewer, sponsor, and recommend-er of Cinematronica! I feel so special!!!

Today’s film is a strange bird. It’s a film made in the 50s that should have been made in the 20s. It’s an American film that should have been made in Germany. It’s a simple movie that evolves into so much more. Night of The Hunter is a movie as big as life, but as intimate as a lover’s kiss. For a cinephile, this is a movie of pure delight. I feel like watching it again already, and i just finished it an hour ago! It’s a film about powerful emotions, like the feeling of vulnerability, the overpowering cloak of the night, and the dread of a chase without an end in sight.

It’s a game of cat-and-mouse. A bank robber in prison blabs to his cell mate about his exploits, as well as his family, before facing execution for his part in the crime. When his cell mate gets out, the sadistic and brutal killer named Powell, he makes a B-line for the robber’s widow and their children, one of whom knows the location of the money. After a brief courtship, Powell ends up marrying the widow and cements his cover. But soon after the marriage, he starts snooping around the children and asking them questions about the money. One night, when the wife realizes what is happening, Powell kills her and disposes of her body. With that task out of the way, he drops the subterfuge and begins to look for the children, anxious to get the money and leave town. That night the children are chased mercilessly by Powell, and are pushed to the brink of sanity as their abusive and homicidal step-father.

It’s a fascinating thing to watch. I’m somewhat dazzled by all the little touches put on display here. It’s more like a painting than a movie at times, with the Expressionist soul of this film howling like a hawk obscured by the darkness. Inspired by the German Expressionist films of the 20s, most notably Vampyr and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, this film seems out of sync with the rest of reality when dialog pops up on the soundtrack. It’s like putting words to the noiseless unease of a nightmare, and although it’s a necessary component to the film that actually ends up adding a lot to it, it still weirds me out a bit when I hear these people speaking.

This might be the performance of Robert Mitchum’s career. He never made a more emotionally-charged film that I have seen. As Powell, he is almost like a force of nature, a beast that skulks in the skin of a man. He has no heart, no conscience. All he wants is what he wants, and that is more important than the kids, the wife, and even the money. Certain scenes, like the one featured above, show his deadly charismatic side, something Mitchum likely crafted as Phillip Marlowe but perfected here. He’s slick, smart, and deceptively sweet. It chills you to the bone to watch him get in bed with the wife, who has NO clue what she has invited into her home.

Charles Laughton is a poet with a camera here. He has so many different angles here. There is of course the German influence here in his shots and his framing. And he may have been born in Britain, but here he seems to be channeling a fierce Southern spirit in the dialog that had me raising my eyebrows a few times. I am sad to report that this was his only directorial effort, as who knows what great things he might have accomplished had he been given another chance. But, like most classics, this was not supported in the theaters and ended up being a box-office failure. But Laughton at least gave us this one gem, this striking piece of work that stand to testify that perhaps some directors should be given another chance, and that Hollywood fucks up… a lot.

What does Night of The Hunter mean at the end of the day? Are we better people for feeling the nauseating discomfort of the chase? Are we smarter or more enlightened for the experience? Well, I’m not sure about that, but for me it’s an experience, a meditation on helplessness. It’s an extrapolation of a feeling so primordial that it is branded onto our very genes. It’s something very powerful, and something very well put together by an excellent cast and a talented crew. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think you might too. I give Night of The Hunter 10 German Expressionists out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Thanks again, Goregirl! What a great recommendation! Just for all the hard work you’ve put into this site when you didn’t have to, here’s what every Blue-blooded American citizen wants as a gift; a shot of me without a shirt on:

You're welcome, America!

You're welcome, America!

Wow, what a handsome guy! And what a gratuitous and lazy photograph! Anyway, stick around tomorrow for my review of Pierrot Le Fou! Toodles!




3 responses

7 07 2009

Well…your not the first man to give me a picture of himself without a shirt on. But you are definitely the first to post it on his blog!

I seen this film for the first time about 10 years ago and it really rocked my world. There isn’t a thing I would change and Mitchum’s performance is inspired! I had no idea that is where the love/hate on the knuckles thing came from.

11 07 2009

Spot on review. Glad you “got” NIGHT on the first time out; it’s a film that I liked when I saw I the first time, loved when I saw it the second, and damn near worshiped the third time…

Anyway, I remember I was skeptical you could review a movie per day (in any kind of depth) when you announced the project on (You may remember me, coincidentally, as “Rev. Powell”). I’m glad to see it appears you’ve pretty much kept it up. I still have 5.5 months before I officially have to eat my words!

11 07 2009

Thanks, Rev. Powell! I’m so glad to see that you’ve come to see the site! You’re always a welcome presence here! I’m sad to admit that I haven’t been on the forums recently, due to my massive sprawl of a project going on here, but I make a personal guarantee to come back on soon and bug everyone again with my fringe opinions and weird sense of humor! Hope to see you here often, especially on December 31st! 🙂 I’ll be sure to check out your blog, as well! I love weird movies!

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