Friday, November 17, 2017
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Who's In It: Robert Mitchum (The Lusty Men, Angel Face), Shelley Winters (Winchester '73, The Poseidon Adventure), and Lillian Gish (The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance).
What It's About: A serial killer (Mitchum) turns his attention to a widow (Winters) and her two kids, thinking that one of them must know the location of some money hidden by their deceased husband/father.
How It Is: A stylish thriller with the emphasis on "stylish;" often to a fault. The story is great and some of the performances are also great (particularly Mitchum and Gish), but I'm not always sure what Charles Laughton is up to in his one and only directing credit.
Laughton and cinematographer Stanley Cortez create some stunningly gorgeous shots and I love the use of Harry's (Mitchum) singing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" to build dread. What I don't like is the way the film rushes through some elements. Some of that's a script problem. Willa (Winters) falls for Harry at a ridiculous, unconvincing speed, for example, but there are multiple points where I'm totally lost about why someone is behaving the way they are. Pearl's (Sally Jane Bruce) reactions to Harry are equally mystifying.
I also don't like a lot of the editing. There's a cool sequence where people are talking about how Willa needs a man and the dialogue is cleverly intercut with shots of Harry's train in transit, but the cuts themselves are matter-of-fact and artless. Every step of the way The Night of the Hunter is trying cool things and I appreciate that, but only about a third of them are successful.
Rating: 3 out of 5 creepy clergymen.