Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

Charles Laughton's directorial debut was sadly also his swansong thanks to bemused 1955 audiences and critics not finding The Night of the Hunter favourable. 

It's a great shame, but thankfully this delightful stylised slice of American Gothic has found the reception it had deserved all along down the years, with Robert Mitchum's performance as the killer preacher Harry Powell, and the way in which Laughton and his cinematographer, Stanley Cortez, shot him proving utterly iconic; one of cinema's finest and truest bogeymen.

It is perhaps easy though to see why the film failed upon release, Laughton infuses it with the styles and motifs of both religion and, most notably, German Expressionism. The latter especially is key, presented with its trademark distortions, shadows, strange camera angles and surrealism, to create a wholly correct disturbing mood which, when coupled with moments of camp and knowing dialogue, perhaps went some way to alienate those initial cinemagoers. 

It is only on reflection, that we can see how right this stylised expressionist approach was, as it helps nail the sinister character of Powell,  with his flick knife, Love and Hate tattoos, his warped religion and his baritone voice taunting the two children he preys on with hymns, and the sweaty West Virginian nightmarish fears of the children themselves, from whom Laughton captures great performances by Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce. 

Praise to for Lillian Gish, the silent movie legend perfectly encapsulating the weary wise goodness incarnate who becomes the children's guardian angel and to Shelley Winters, their duped and brainwashed mother whose fate - lashed to the front seat of an old jalopy, submerged in the depths of the river, her hair streaming out Ophelia like in the river's current and amongst the weed - remains just one of many visually iconic highpoints the film can boast of.


  1. I loved this film! Even way back, when people would look at me like I needed examining for saying it. The performances of Mitchum especially, but Shelley Winters who never really got her due & Lillian Gish, made this movie a provoking & entertaining piece. I'm glad to have found someone else who at least felt it worth writing about.

  2. Hi, thanks for stopping by good to see another fan out there!

    I love Winters in this, indeed I love her in most things, but in this she's brilliant and you're right - against Mitchum - she's probably overlooked. But the small details she puts in her character, with looks saying far more than a page of dialogue could ever do, are splendid