The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter ★★★★

Included In Lists:
Criterion Collection - #541
Sight and Sound Top 250 - #66
Ladies and Gentlemen: The Essentials -#38

Review In A Nutshell:

After seeing this film twice, I never expected my opinion of the film to improve. I think it is because I decided to watch this at a time in my life where I genuinely felt like watching it, rather than forcing it upon myself, also time has allowed me to process my previous experience and during times of reflection allowed me to reconsider my previous feelings. Some of the issues I had with the film are still found during this third watch, and I doubt they would actually go away in my subsequent viewings. The improvements that I have found in this viewing are not leaps but rather minor hurdles that shifted my feelings towards this film from above average to good.

The Night of the Hunter's details the ideas of innocence, corruption, good vs evil, and of course, religion. The film's narrative is simple in its construction, which I felt was a flaw in previous viewings, but seeing it this time allowed me to understand the intentions of James Agee's script. It aims to appeal both its adult and young audiences about the importance of children and how the effect that the adults around impact their life; moments that emphasises these are found during between children-adult interactions, even the most minor ones, demonstrate a sense of depth in these children's souls, whether it may be a change in a child's facial expression or the physical distance they show towards the antagonistic adult figures.

Charles Laughton, the film's director, handles the film's themes of innocence and corruption in such a way that lets it become universally accessible. He wants this film to be a source of inspiration for its audience about the importance of morality, resonating to the inner souls of its audience. This is most likely the reason why the film feels so stripped down in its storytelling and features basic characters with simple motives; when we reach in the hearts and spirits of its characters, what we find is nothing complex and different from what is already projected in their surfaces. I didn't mind the Laughton and Agee's approach in having these characters act as symbolic figures rather than genuine manifestations of humanity, as it allowed the film to be more than just a throwaway thriller or drama. That being said, Laughton and Agee did not completely forget to entertain its audiences, as it handles its antagonistic preacher with such darkness and terror that one cannot help but feel frightened, and the moments of thrill and action were delivered with a heightened sense of danger for the children, both at a physical and spiritual level.

The film starts itself off strong, but once the film hits near the end of its second half, after getting off the river, and then it starts to lose that disturbing and dire effect that was found in the first hour. The film at least redeems itself during the final 10 minutes of the film that wraps its thematic concerns and story effectively. The film was also paced quite swiftly during the former half of the film, breezing by its 40-50 minutes without a hiccup. This did leave certain scenes to feel a little rushed in its attempt to set the setting and its characters, but since this was my third viewing of this, it was not much of an issue.

The photography in this film is simply lovely to watch, with excellent use of shadows and light, that reflects well with its themes. I think if Laughton handled this film like a late coloured Hitchcock film, then this film would have been ineffective in drawing its audiences in to the film's dark heart. The film's musical score was for the most part great, but there were a couple of moments that felt forced in emphasising a certain aspect of the film.

The acting in this film was both hot and cold. I was impressed with Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winter's performance, but was ultimately disappointed with the child actors. It has been said that Laughton hated child actors, and refused to give them proper direction in regards to handling a scene, therefore that task was left for Mitchum to handle. I think this did affect the film's rhythm, contrasting heavily professional and amateurish performances. The children simply lacked the emotional impact that its adult actors were able to bring with their roles.

The Night of the Hunter is a strong film by Charles Laughton, and it is a shame that this was the only film he directed as the potential was certainly present when watching this. I recommend for everyone to at least give this a watch once.

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