Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Night of the Hunter

Famous for being overlooked and generally under appreciated, Charles Laughton’s “Night of the Hunter” is one of the best thrillers ever made. The story follows two children whose father is arrested for robbing a bank, but before he is carted off by the police he lets his little boy and girl in on the whereabouts of the stolen loot. While in jail the father lets slip to his cellmate (the amazing Robert Mitchum) that his heist money is hidden away somewhere near his home. Mitchum is released and, in the guise of a preacher, sets off to seek out the man’s family and make them reveal the location of the treasure by any means necessary.

Beyond the story, what really makes this movie a masterpiece is the perfect synergy of visual effects and mood. All shot in black and white, every scene is meticulously composed and arranged to get the maximum visual effect. The entire film was shot on a soundstage, which gives the viewer the feeling of watching a play rather than a movie, and lends the film a certain timeless, story book, almost dreamlike (or rather nightmarish) quality which has also been used to great effect in other movies such as “Brazil”, “The City of the Lost Children” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” to name a few.

Unfortunately “Night of the Hunter” was truly ahead of its time and audiences and critics simply did not know what to make of it. A critical and commercial failure, the reviews were so scathing that Laughton swore never to direct another movie, making “Hunter” his first and last film. Truly a shame considering ""The Night of the Hunter" pioneered many conventions that would influence so many directors of later generations. If you are in the market to see a truly scary film with one of the best villains in movie history, “The Night of the Hunter” is right up your alley.

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