Night of the Hunter review by The Grim Ringler

Night of the Hunter

If you read the back of the jacket for the Night of the Hunter laserdisc you see a quote from legendary film critic Pauline Kael calling Night one of the most frightening movies ever made and I have to wonder if she really saw any scary movies at all. Cause folks, if this is scary, Im a good movie reviewer.

Essentially a tale of the old and new Testaments meeting and fighting over the souls of two young children, Night of the Hunter has long been considered a classic, and part of me wonders why. John and Pearl are two innocents thrust into the deadly world of adulthood early when their father is hanged for robbery and murder and their lonely mother quickly remarries a shady traveling preacher that is only interested in finding the hidden money from the robbery. Once they are married, the preacher quickly dispatches the mother and then sets his sights on the children, but John is wise to his game and he and Pearl manage to escape from the preacher and make their way down river in the hopes of eluding him. Their fates cross again though as the children find a new home with an elderly woman who has taken it upon herself to take in young orphans, and the preacher tracks them down and makes his move to claim the money he has now killed for. The old woman (a wonderful Lillian Gish) though is also a student of the Bible and is not willing to let the preacher take these lambs without a fight.

Charles Laughton did a pretty marvelous job with this film, shooting a lot of it on closed and dressed sets that stand in for outdoor scenes and that give the film a very surreal and eerie feel. And some of the imagery is truly scary, such as the image of a very dead Shelley Winters sitting in a car at the bottom of a lake, looking like a ghostly mermaid as her hair sways with the waters current. But as wonderful as the direction is, and as inspired as much of the very boisterous musical score may be, the film just doesnt seem to have a discernable direction. Scenes end before they can give a feeling to them or can even make an impact. Humor is clumsily placed throughout the film, which cuts any tension thats built up and deflates any real terror you feel towards the preacher. And as good as Robert Mitchum is as the preacher, he just never seems more than just weird and moderately creepy. He never really gives you a sense that he is a monster, though at times he is portrayed as an almost supernatural force. What the movie DOES do right is it breaks some barriers for its day. Gish is a strong, single woman, and is more than up to the task of protecting her wards, which is rare to see in a film, even today. There are some very interesting moments in the film when Mitchum gets overly excited and his switchblade will open in his pocket, showing how twisted the preachers sexuality and view of women are. And the idea that the preacher represents a sort of Old Testament view of God and Gishs character represents the New Testament version of that same God is really very interesting, I just wish it had been used a bit better.

This is far from a bad film. Its a very eerie, interesting film that is definitely worth a look, if for no other reason than to see the wonderful sets and the brilliant use of imagery that Laughton uses. All in all though I think the movies a bit overrated. It has some interesting moments but as a whole is just too convoluted and disjointed to really leave you with any real feelings of dread or even relief.


7 out of 10 Jackasses

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