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Night of the Hunter
October 25, 2005 8:19 AM   Subscribe

"[A] nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale" are the words Charles Laughton used to describe the only film he directed, The Night of the Hunter (1955). Although James Agee is credited with helping to write the script, most critics agree that Laughton discarded Agee's effort for his own interpretation of the novel on which the movie is based. A fascinating series of rushes survive from the making of the film, showing Laughton's rapport with the actors and his own interpretations of the characters. In 2003 a detailed description of the making of the film was published as Heaven and Hell to Play With. Ebert on the movie. Margaret Atwood on the movie.
posted by OmieWise (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
A pity it was Laughton's only directoral effort, as the film is such an exceptional collection of cinematic pleasures, not the least of which is Mitchum's deranged preacher. Also, as someone who has had to suffer through a summer of working with the insufferable Shelley Winters, Night of the Hunter another marvelous opportunity to watch her die on screen, which she seems to do in every movie she is in, and which gives me perverse pleasure.
posted by maxsparber at 8:25 AM on October 25, 2005


Even without receiving joy from the onscreen death of Shelly Winters, I have to say great movie. One of my faves. And with the best movie punch ever (lower cot to upper cot).
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 8:29 AM on October 25, 2005


Great post. Great film. If only they would release some of those rushes. I had not heard about book either, I will have to hunt that up. There still seem to be a lot of people who have not seen Night of the Hunter, so it is fun to be able to freak someone out once in awhile by showing it to them.
posted by marxchivist at 8:32 AM on October 25, 2005


Fantastic, thanks for this. I've always loved that film, it has such a surreal vibe to it.

I saw a guy on the subway the other day with "LOVE" tattooed on one hand and "HATE" on the other. I hope he was a fan of this film, and didn't just pick it up from Rocky Horror.
posted by Gamblor at 8:32 AM on October 25, 2005


P.S. When I was at the State Fair about 15 years ago, the guy who slammed the safety bar shut across our laps on one of the rides had the "Love" and "Hate" tattoos.
posted by marxchivist at 8:34 AM on October 25, 2005


It's one of the best films of all-time, and so tapped into the dark underbelly of the zeitgeist -- paging Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Pat Robertson, please pick up the black courtesy phone -- that all smartfolks should make an effort to see it.
posted by digaman at 8:34 AM on October 25, 2005


Nothing wrong with Rocky Horror, I should add. I'm just saying, if you have to emulate someone, kids, choose Robert Mitchum over Meatloaf.
posted by Gamblor at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2005


"Ah, little mefites, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the story of old right hand, left hand? The story of good and evil?

H-A-T-E! It was with this old left hand that Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers have veins that flow straight through to the heart of man!"

Mitchum would be hugely successful as a televangelist today

I watched it again just last month and that must be for the seventh or eighth time now. I love it more every time I see it. Great performances, great soundtrack, great story, great cinematography. What more do you want from a movie?

Unquestionably in my all time top five.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2005


Atwood's essay has an interesting discussion of the symbolism of hands (and arms) in the film. Hearing Mitchum sing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" gives me the waydown chills every time.
posted by scratch at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2005


[obligatory newsfilter reference] Patrick Fitzgerald = Lillian Gish.
posted by digaman at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2005


scratch writes "Hearing Mitchum sing 'Leaning on the Everlasting Arms' gives me the waydown chills every time."

I know, I was thinking about this movie because I was at my friend's house this weekend and she had on a record and someone was singing 'Leaning' and I mentioned how I couldn't hear that song without thinking of evil. She had never heard of the movie.
posted by OmieWise at 8:40 AM on October 25, 2005


Mitchum would be hugely successful as a televangelist today

Nah, Robert Duvall would kick his ass. Watching The Apostle, I almost got saved.
posted by scratch at 8:42 AM on October 25, 2005


We saw this again last summer as part of Chicago's Movies in the Park series. It was pretty awesome to watch this movie outside with a nine thousand companions. It was worth the neck cramps just to hear the huge cheer from the audience when Rachel Cooper says, "He ain't no preacher neither!"
posted by jennyb at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2005


It's the scary preacher everyone remembers from the film, for obvious reasons. But so many other parts of this film are so excellent. The nighttime rafting down the river, Mitchum's explanation to his wife about how their wedding will not be consumated, the protective image of Lillian Gish with a shotgun a-rockin on the porch. Heck, even the bit parts of the Spoons (the older couple) and poor hapless Ruby are brilliant.

So much of this film is so completely modern. But a different modernity, as if Godard and et a l never existed and instead Huckleberry Finn were taken as a basis for twisting the American experience into avant garde film.

Here's a page with some good stills.
posted by Nelson at 8:57 AM on October 25, 2005


Nelson writes "But a different modernity, as if Godard and et a l never existed and instead Huckleberry Finn were taken as a basis for twisting the American experience into avant garde film."

I always think Flannery O'Connor.
posted by OmieWise at 9:46 AM on October 25, 2005


Lest we forget, although Robert Mitchum provided the piece with its heavy, Lillian Gish held the center. In numerous short films for D.W. Griffith during the silent era she was usually cast as the victim; Night of the Hunter was a kind of victim's victory for Lillian Gish's on-screen persona. She would've celebrated her 102nd birthday 11 days ago.
posted by Parlour Tricks at 9:56 AM on October 25, 2005


I saw this movie the first time in an audience full of hipper-than-thou college kids who cackled through the entire thing. They completely ruined the experience. It was only when I saw it on the big screen with an appreciative audience that I realized how great it is.
posted by goatdog at 9:59 AM on October 25, 2005


Wow - I've still never seen this movie, but the Atwood essay has me wondering: has anyone here read Blood Meridian, and do you see any relationship there?

/me edits Netflix queue excitedly - great post!
posted by freebird at 10:30 AM on October 25, 2005


You think they have this at Blockbuster? Prolly not, I'm thinking.
posted by wsg at 11:31 AM on October 25, 2005


Thanks for posting the links, OmieWise. It's a great film. It inspired a decent song (Left Hand Right Hand) by the Murder City Devils as well.
posted by safetyfork at 12:23 PM on October 25, 2005


This movie is so great it makes me tingle with joy and wonder every time I watch it.

And well said Nelson. This film is so modern it puts postmodernism to shame.
posted by vronsky at 1:00 PM on October 25, 2005


wsg,

Oh, they probably will. I'm sure I first rented it from someplace like that.

Excellent movie.
posted by hackly_fracture at 3:42 PM on October 25, 2005


Thanks for the excellent FPP, OmieWise.

I saw this movie the first time in an audience full of hipper-than-thou college kids who cackled through the entire thing.

Punks!
posted by maryh at 5:00 PM on October 25, 2005


maxsparber: you're not wishing hard enough. Shelley Winters Survives Heart Attack.
posted by Silky Slim at 7:13 PM on October 25, 2005


Film Forum in New York screened a series of outtakes a while ago, including the little girl singing the man in the moon song. Six years old and she sounded like a torch singer.
posted by brujita at 10:25 PM on October 25, 2005


Thanks for this post...I absolutely love this movie. Not least because it refers to the town where I was born (Parkersburg, WV) as "one of them Sodoms on the Ohio River."

(Not least, either, because Robert Mitchum inspired "Triangle Man" from They Might Be Giants' "Particle Man" song.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:35 AM on October 26, 2005


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