Night of the Hunter

Discussion in 'Classic' started by rhett, Jan 4, 2004.

  1. rhett

    rhett Administrator

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    I just finished watching this Robert Mitchum film, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, and I was quite impressed. The cinematography is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and it is especially notable considering all the stylistic influences found within it. The scenes with Mitchum and Winters in the bedroom strongly echo THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI in all its expressionism, while many others are sheathed in film noir darkness. Then there is the shot with the grandmother on the porch with the gun, looking right out of a John Ford western. It is a collage of different styles, and the resulting effect is nightmarish and unnerving.

    Mitchum is great in the scenes he is in, but the film fumbles with his climax, never giving him a proper finale. The film jumps gears in the end, transfering all the power from Mitchum to the grandmother, leaving for a conclusion that abandons Mitchum's story. His whole plight seems like an afterthought when the two children are discovered, and the story then treads into "save the innocence of children!" territory. This is not to say these latter scenes are bad, just out of place when the rest of the film is considered.

    There is plenty of religious allegory, from the apple giving to the animal imagery, which gives the film some enlightening subtext. That, coupled with the stirking cinematography more than make up for muddled third act and the blatant overacting by all involved. It is a fascinating movie, definitely made more interesting considering it is Charles Laughton's only film as a director. It gives the film an ambiguity, because there is no other work to look at to try and understand some of the things going on within the film. It is by no means perfect, but it has held up amazingly well (it will be 50 years old next year). What do you guys and gals think of this studio picture?
     
  2. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    **Comment removed**
     
  3. Lyle Horowitz

    Lyle Horowitz Miscreant

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    I'm glad that you liked this Rhett, seeing as it is not only my favorite film noir, but also occupies my personal top 10. It kinda bugs me that NOTH is Laughton's only film, considering how great it is. However, Laughton was also a great character actor aswell. I also agree with you about the climax, which I felt was rushed. Mitchum is excellent, and there are plenty of memorable scenes/shots in the film. I was literally on the edge of my seat in some parts, and one of the stronger points of the film is how suspenful it is. ***** (of *****)
     
  4. X-human

    X-human I ate my keys

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    Great film, it's on my YMDb somewhere.

    What is the deal with him only directing one movie? Did it bomb in the theaters?
     
  5. Lyle Horowitz

    Lyle Horowitz Miscreant

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    I was under the impression he died, but he died 7 years later...

    I guess he just decided to go back to acting? BTW, the book by Davis Grubb, unlike the film, is horrible.
     
  6. rhett

    rhett Administrator

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    On Ebert's Great Movies review, he says that the movie bombed both commercially and critically, so I guess it is no surprise that Laughton didn't do anything afterwards. 'Tis a shame.

    Here is the link to Ebert's informative review:

    http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/greatmovies/night_of_hunter.html
     
  7. MaxRenn

    MaxRenn Member

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    rhett, I agree with most of what you wrote although I rate the film a lot more highly than you. What Laughton achieved with this film is unique - it's hard to think of any other film that has its texture or deals with religion in a similar way. Personally I think it's ridiculous that this film did not make AFI's list of the best 100 movies but that's a whole different thread. I agree that the end of the movie is a little muddled after Mitchum's capture but I do think that Laughton wanted the focus to be on good triumphing over evil. Also some of the scenes with Lilian Gish and the children become a little too syrupy but again I think that this was Laughton's intent as a balance to the harshness of Mitchum's character.

    However I did want to take issue with your comment on the "blatant overacting by all involved". I really don't see this in anyone's performance except possibly Mitchum, but you said you liked his performance. I think you have to take into account two things. First it's always unfair to apply modern standards of acting style to a film that's 50 years ago. I'm sure that no-one at the time accused the actors of overacting. Second, "Night of the Hunter"'s style is a combination of realism and fantasy/fairy tale and that makes the characters a little hard to play consistently.
     
  8. marioscido

    marioscido New Member

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    I don't want to repeat myself too much, but I think 'Night' is a great film; it is also a film that demands repeat viewings. The film's complex and multi-layered content has often been overshadowed by complaints about its weird and hyperbolic form - like the over-acting, the mix of surrealism and naturalism, allegory and melodrama.... It has only come to be praised by critics in the US as an enduiring masterpiece of modern cinema in the last 15 years or so. In France, of course, it was embraced as a masterpiece of 'le fantastique,' but in the US, critics and audiences found it unsettling. And well... it was, and it is! The time is 1955 folks, and a story about a suave charismatic man coming into the life of a family and turning it topsy-turvy hit close to home. This is the McCarthy-era, a time when careers were ended, homes torn apart, and relationships severed - all in the name of an imposed ideology. In the film, the ideology depicted is Christian fundamentalism, but in the US of the 50s the ideological fundamentalism, which had become a 'civic religion' really, was anti-communism. And people were made to 'speak in tongues' at hearings and other gatherings (just as Shelly Winers does in the film) in order to point suspecting fingers anyone who dared to critique this new civic religion. Ideologies have, and continue, to manufacture consent in the world.

    'Night' is a film about the evils of 'manichean' ideologies. That means, ideologies that simplistically dichotomize the world into blacks and whites. You have all heard these discourses: "you are either with us or against us," "this is a war between good and evil." This is a film about contrasts (both in style and content), about how it is usually the innocent and the vulnerable who are hurt when these discourses are deployed and turned into realities.

    Yes, the acting is over-the-top! What in the film is not? Yes, the film seems to mix contrasting genres! Is it not a film about the deployment of dualities? 'Night' is Laughton's cinematic rendition of oil and water - mixed together. Except we usually like to see our oil on salad, and our water in a glass. This films shatters these boundaries completely; it is a film that upholds the beauty of hybridity in the face of purity and ideological fundamentalism. This film put a stop to Laughton's career as a director. His dangerous mixing was too unsettling and people walked away scratching their heads.

    Shelly Winters in the car at the bottom of the lake! What more is there to say.
     
  9. The Chaostar

    The Chaostar Johnny Hallyday forever

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    Masterpiece. My favorite movie to be precise. What happened with Dwatts' comments? What did he said?
     
  10. shape22

    shape22 Well-Known Member

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    I just watched this for the first time. I had really mixed feelings about it. It's definitely an eccentric film--enough so that I can easily understand why it alienated audiences at the time of its release.

    On the plus side, the cinematography is really exceptional. There are a number of truly striking shots--and a few indelible ones. I have a feeling the shot of the car underwater will stick with me forever. And the many shots of Mitchum's silhouette lend the same type of atmospheric quality as the best images from Val Lewton's films.

    Unfortunately not every aspect of the film is on par with the camera work. I was especially troubled with the dramatic structure. After some truly harrowing scenes about halfway through the film it shifts gears dramatically. I can understand what Laughton was trying to accomplish. But it didn't work for me.

    Mitchum does a great job of projecting menace. And the film does an excellent job of establishing him as a truly dangerous villain. But Laughton doesn't really capitalize on the character's potential. The whole film seems to be leading to an inevitable big showdown. And although there's some conflict in the final reel, it doesn't feel like a climax. It's not as suspenseful or dramatic as it should be. And it left me feeling empty and unsatisfied.

    As others have mentioned, some of the scenes with Lilian Gish are so syrupy that they seem to be borrowed from a film 20 years older. I found them pretty off-putting and stylistically at odds with the first half of the film.

    Some of the music also left me cold. I suspect Laughton utilized a children's choir to enhance the timeless, dark fairytale vibe. But combining those selections with heavier, horror-influenced instrumental pieces gives the whole presentation a slightly turgid, melodramatic feel.

    This is a complicated film with a very ambitious agenda. And it's possible that I'd be less irked by all of the jarring shifts in tone and disparate elements upon another viewing. But I definitely didn't find this film particularly accessible or satisfying the first time around. For me, I think it'd be more rewarding if it unfolded like a more straightforward genre film.
     
  11. Erick H.

    Erick H. Well-Known Member

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    I was lucky enough to see it in a theater about 10 years ago and it is indeed a classic.Mitchum gives a very offbeat,menacing turn in it (perhaps even edging out his cruel turn in the original CAPE FEAR as a dranged baddie).The expressionistic photography is great and Shelley Winters was at her loveliest here (years before her plus size character actress period).Her last shot is fantasic.Sadly the film was just too offbeat for 50's critics and the drubbing it got really hurt actor/director Charles Laughton (star of the 40's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME).As a result he never directed again.By the way,he was married to THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN herself,Elsa Lanchester.
     

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