The Night of the Hunter-1955
Starring-Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters
Top 100 Films-#66
Reviewed November 13, 2016
The way that I would classify The Night of the Hunter is by describing it as a fairy tale for adults. In fact, I categorized it as a thriller, but it certainly teeters on the edge of being a horror film. In addition to being a well-written film, it also contains breathtaking cinematography. Made in 1955, it is shot in black and white, and tells the tale of good versus evil in a small town. The film is a masterpiece and one of my all time favorites.
The film is creepy, but in a highly intelligent way, and director Charles Laughton is responsible for the immeasurable success of the film, though the film was not a success upon release. It has only been as the years passed that is has finally received its due admiration. The film is way ahead of its time. It is based on the 1953 novel by Davis Grubb.
The time is the 1930’s in rural West Virginia, and the action takes place along the Ohio river. Ben Harper, a local family man, robs a bank and hides the stolen money inside his daughter’s doll. His son and daughter (John and Pearl) are central characters in the story. Caught, Ben is out of the picture leaving his wife, Wilma (Winters), vulnerable and alone. A serial killer, Reverend Harry Powell (Mitchum), a misogynist, is on the loose disguised as a preacher. In prison with Ben, he knows the money is hidden and is determined to find out where. He has designs on wooing Wilma. When dire events occur, John and Pearl are left on the run along the river to seek refuge with a kindly older woman, Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish).
The film is a combination of majestic, haunting, and artistic. Each scene seemingly glows as the dark black and the white colors mix in a gorgeous way, making the film tranquil, despite the dark tone of the films subject matter.
The Night of the Hunter also has a visual dream-like quality. During one pivotal scene, we see a dead body, submerged at the bottom of the river. Obviously, it is horrific with the bulging eyes and the bloating beginning to set in, but the scene is so creatively beautiful as well. The flowing hair of the victim, the posture, is a mesmerizing scene and sticks with you for some time.
Poetic, and a sense of good versus evil, clearly laid out as Powell has two words imprinted on the knuckles of each hand- “L-O-V-E” and “H-A-T-E”. These words create the basis of the film as both words can be applied to the actions of the characters.
My personal favorite scene is when John and Pearl travel along the Ohio river in flight from their rival. The shapes of the trees mirrored with the flowing river is just incredible to see and I can watch this scene over and over again.
A thriller, written intelligently well, with creativity for miles, is a recipe for pure delight. Director, Laughton, only directed this one film, and encouraged creative collaboration and participation from his actors, and it shows in the resulting masterpiece. The Night of the Hunter has influenced countless directors.