The Night of The Hunter Review
The Night of The Hunter is a 1955 thriller horror film directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish. In a strong year as is 1955, it is one of the best films and that is saying a lot.
To plot revolves around a reverend who is a serial killer. He charms the widow of an executed man who hid his money but only told the kids where. The reverend is then after the children to find the money. It is a well written story and although a bit too simplistic, it is still executed perfectly. The beginning is fantastic as it instantly made me interested in the story and the ending is extremely satisfying and so heartwarming. And the rest of the picture is very good as well with exciting chase/horror sequences and excellent introduction of a new family for the kids later on. If I have one problem with the story, it is that it’s a bit too simplistic as I said before, but also somewhat dragged in the first act and somewhat sensational and too much dressed with blockbuster clothing later on. That is what is the most interesting thing about it is so advanced for its time incorporating action and chase that would be a standard decades later. It is very groundbreaking, admittedly for better and for worse.
I like the characters, I found them all really well developed and well written. Reverend Harry Powell can be a bit too vilified, but he is still a big presence with his unpredictable nature and very dangerous behavior. The kids are really good, John’s devotion to his late father is so endearing to watch and his nervous breakdown is the end is so heartbreaking. As for Pearl, I found it frustrating that she wasn’t as loyal as her brother was, but she is way too young so it is understandable. And I liked Willa for that little screen time she got. She is a typical female character for the time, but still a realistic character and a deeply tragic figure. Uncle Birdie is a likable supporting character and although Rachel’s children are never given anything to do, Ruby is still a very well written character with realistic and touching problems. And although at first that story came out of nowhere, it still blended into the film more smoothly as it went on.
Speaking of Rachel, she is without a doubt my favorite character here. So good. She is a likable, grounded character, but a good-natured old woman above all who helps where she can. And I like her behavior and personality with telling the stories to the kids and also being somewhat tough with them, but still gentle in the end. She was brought to life beautifully by wonderful Lillian Gish. She completely took me by surprise when I figured out it was her as she was still beautiful as such an old age. But she surprised me with giving such a powerhouse performance in a sound film. I did not expect that at all and was pleasantly surprised. She is the standout here, so powerful and this is her best performance in my opinion after ‘Way Down East‘. And all of the other performances are very good with of course Robert Mitchum doing a great job in his role. He was at times a bit theatrical for my taste, but this is such a role so it was needed and his deep voice and his dangerous look in the eyes perfectly suited this role. He is such a presence, stealing every scene he is in.
The Night of the Hunter shines the most at the technical level. Oh my God, what a stunningly beautiful film this is! This is probably the best, or at least one of the best, cinematography ever in a film, so polished and remarkable. The natural photography with night scenery and animal and river imagery is beautiful to behold. The sequences on the river are almost poetic how good they are filmed. And those lift this film to the highest levels. But Charles Laughton is a revelation here for such a good actor to also show that he can be a good director in his debut film is unprecedented. It is a shame that he never directed another film as he is so professional and visionary here. I like his approach with artistic imagery and silent scenes definitely paying an homage to older silent movies which I found really interesting and perfectly executed. The score is also good, I like the inclusion of gospel music and I like how the tone of the film is so polished, ranging from dramatic, horrific to warm. It is also a tightly-edited little film and although the first half is inferior to the second, this is still a very well paced film with just the right amount of running time. It is also groundbreaking in its approach and dark tone and it is very authentic both technically and in terms of storytelling. And the movie is not only smart, but also incredibly heartwarming and touching.