Tuesday, 28 April 2009
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
DIRECTED BY CHARLES LAUGHTON
This is another of the classic noirs I'd never actually seen until I sat down yesterday evening to watch the MGM DVD release - it's seldom shown on UK television and although I was obviously aware of how important it's considered to be in the pantheon of American cinema I'd never actually seen it.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Davies Grub and loosely based on real life serial killer Harry Powers, the films sees Mitchum's character, the sleepy eyed preacher/serial killer in pursuit of two children who know the secret of the $10,000 dollars their father stole in a robbery before being hung for his crimes. Mitchum's character Harry Powell shared a cell with the convicted man and learned of the money after hearing the man talking in his sleep.
In the guise of the pious preacher Mitchum marries the children's mother (Shelley Winters) but when she discovers him trying to scare the children into revealing the whereabouts of the stolen cash, he kills her. And dumps her body in the river.
Soon afterwards he confronts the children again and now with no one to protect them things take an all together more dangerous turn. The children manage to trick Mitchum in the cellar and flee and make their escape downriver in a small rowing boat.
The Preacher then roam depression engulfed country in search of the two children, finally finding them seeking shelter with a kindly old woman played wonderfully by Lillian Gish where the showdown is acted out in dramatic style.
I've read that many people consider this Mitchum's best performance and he certainly convinces as the psychotic preacher with love and hate tattooed across his hands - Hate on the left hand and Love on the right. Every time someone notices his hands he goes into a biblical story about the right hand representing love and overcoming the left hand which does the devil's work.
Apparently the film was not popular on its original release - firstly it was shot in gloomy black and white when colour was very much in vogue and it was also presented in a standard screen size when the wide screen format was king in the cinemas. And Mitchum's portrayal of the dark, perverted, paedophile character was too much for audiences of the time.
Over time it has become considered a classic and its dream like visions still work today. At times the film seems overly theatrical, for instance when Mitchum chases the children from the cellar with his hands out like Frankenstein's monster, but it all adds to the intentional dreamy quality the director was trying to achieve. To present the film as if it were the children's nightmare.
The DVD release is a vanilla disc which is a pity since I'd like to learn more about the films history and a commentary from a film historian would have been most welcome. All we get here is the original theatrical trailer. But on the strength of the film itself and its budget price its well worth adding to any film collection.
Posted by Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin at 02:02