Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Night of the Hunter

I have seen two movies featuring Shelley Winters recently, and they both involve men marrying her only because of ulterior motives. That doesn't mean anything, but there you go.

The Night of the Hunter was received poorly when it was released in the 50s and was actor Charles Laughton's only work as a director, which is unfortunate because he clearly was talented and film viewers in the 50s didn't know shit about shit. Hunter is a very creepy, effectively moody film, taking a lot from German expressionism and film noir to create its unique style. At the center of it is Robert Mitchum in a completely amazing performance as Harry Powell, a preacher with hate tattooed on the fingers of one hand and love on the other. He is able to charm normal people with his righteousness and friendliness, but the fact that he begins the story sharing a prison cell with a man condemned to hanging for double homicide should tell you all you need to know. The man hid $10000 with his two children, and after Harry is released, he pursues the man's widow (played by Winters) with the intention of finding it. He manages to win her and her daughter over for the most part, but John can see through him.

Eventually Winters catches on, and it's not long before the kids are on the run. They find an unlikely source of help, and it's not long before Powell's sins catch up with him. But along the way there's a hell of a lot of amazing imagery and creepy Mitchum to make it easily one of the best thrillers of the era. The sets will often change in ways that reflect the mood, sometimes subtly and sometimes not. The use of shadow is the most prominent and interesting, and there's also an underwater shot that is one of the most haunting I've ever seen. It's not a very nice movie, and I can sort of understand why audiences weren't ready for it yet... even if the German influence came from films made decades earlier. But it's one of those older movies that gets better as it ages, when some of the stuff it does loses its sheen of unbelievable shock and can be appreciated for the art behind them. I didn't care for how much of the story revolved around a couple kid actors, but they do well enough not to ruin a pretty damn good film.

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