The Night of the Hunter (1955)

A man looks at a girl's face as she sits on his lap holding her doll
The cover art from The Night of the Hunter's Criterion Collection release.
About the movie
  • Director: Charles Laughton
  • Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters
  • Yes or no?: Yes
  • Links: on Letterboxd, IMDb page
Other reviews:

I was struck by how disdainfully this movie treated Robert Mitchum’s preacher, Harry Powell, and his Christianity, despite the occasional allusion to his being a man of the cloth and therefore worthy of respect. That respect never really came to the character except from the easily manipulated. Unfortunately, that included the young daughter, Pearl. While the preacher, and his particular brand, was treated that way, the rest of what the Bible tells us had a major role in the tale told here. Some references:

  • The preacher, along with the direct reference to false prophets in the open
  • The story of Moses and floating down the river
  • Mitchum’s legend of good and evil, as told through Cain and Abel
  • The literal “GOOD” and “EVIL” on the preacher’s hands
  • John being referred to as Moses by Rachel Cooper in the conclusion

It’s me, so I only know what little I know about the Bible and probably missed a few better-concealed references. However much I missed, the feeling I got was that this was a message for us. No problem. The story was a good one and I had an enjoyable time watching the movie.

The centering of John’s character pleasantly surprised me. I’m still new at this era of movies, so I don’t have a great picture of the whole yet, but I can’t imagine that many kids played that prominent a role in that era. The supporting cast was quite good. Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper was great. As soon as she arrived the tone changed and it felt much safer. She had command of her character and that character had command of her self. Shelley Winters was also very good as the children’s mother. She changed tone a little too quickly with regard to marrying, but I’m a bit more distanced from the Depression-era setting than anyone watching this in its time. Uncle Birdie was cool right up until he wasn’t. What the hell was that guy’s purpose?

Robert Mitchum was creepy. His outfit, his tattoos, and the face. He has “a face” for sure. He did a really nice job being creepy here, and his character was a total scumbag. He played rubes, grifted his way into marrying his now-dead cellmate’s wife, killed her, then threatened to kill her kid if no one told him where some money was. John was hard as hell and held out plenty long considering the circumstances, and Powell just kept trying to steamroll his way to the cash and for sure skipping town and leaving the kids in the dust.

I liked this movie and would recommend it to others like me who are trying to learn about entirely new eras of filmmaking. A good story was bolstered by good performances.

Here are some notes:

  • The helicopter shots must have been innovative because they were shaky and seemed out of place with otherwise pretty tight shooting
  • Mrs. Spoon: “I just lie there thinking about canning.”
  • Birdie’s view into the river was eerie
    • Again, w.t.f.
  • The river was filled with jets that made it look like a log ride
  • A couple of those shots of the boat in the river were outstanding. The sound studio where they shot it had to be reconfigured a dozen times, or at least set up well enough with cameras to look so different. One particular shot had the boat under a clear, star-filled sky. It was gorgeous.
  • Animals along the river:
    • frog
    • rabbit
    • turtle
    • fox
    • owl
    • probably more that I missed
  • John’s trauma reaction to the preacher’s arrest
  • The score was strangely upbeat throughout the movie. In perilous situations, John might be oddly happy while light music plays behind, immediately followed by a scary shot. Is that something that’s a cue that I missed, or was it just maybe out of place?

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December 02, 2023
Tags: criterion collection
Categories: Reviews