Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Night of The Hunter [Charles Laughton]

This 1955 psychological thriller is regarded as a great classic and to an extent I can see why. It takes a story told with simple and broad strokes, and mixes it up with some of the most striking and iconic imagery. But, even if they take a lot of inspiration from this, I would say that the films in its aftermath significantly surpass it in terms of their narrative sophistication and depth of character.
In the movie Robert Mitchum is a crooked man of the cloth who's after a fortune hidden by his cell-mate somewhere in his home. To achieve his end, Mitchum charms the hanged cell-mate's widow into marrying him and then turns the screws on the children to get them to reveal the location of the hidden money.
The film has some great scenes to be sure, mainly thanks to Stanley Cortez's (Magnificent Ambersons, Shock Corridor) starkly gorgeous black and white imagery. We are served up several brilliant plays of elusive light and menacing shadow, Expressionist style. The scenes where Shelley Winters confronts a posturing Mitchum about his lies or when Mitchum goes into the cellar with the kids to look for the booty are but two amongst several bravura examples of the film's visual chutzpah. Mitchum's performance is also on many occasions entertaining; the man is clearly having a great time.



But really, the film is played a little too broad for my liking. Mitchum's character so obviously drips with evil intent he may as well have been wearing a large-sized flashing "CREEP" sign on his forehead, and beyond a point all the Christian malarkey begins to grate. There's none of the subtlety and poise that bolstered the creepiness of films like Peeping Tom and The Innocents, made less than a half dozen years later. Even Hitchcock's, Psycho, not a subtle film, is significantly more layered than this.


So it's not quite the enduring classic so far as I'm concerned but still worth the watch, simply for its awesome visuals.

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