6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 6 December 2013
Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), a black-hatted fire and brimstone preacher with LOVE and HATE inked into his knuckles, travels 1930's West Virginia not only spreading the word of the Lord, but killing the widows God requests him to. Sharing a prison cell, his path crosses with Ben Harper, a family man who killed two men in a robbery while attempting to provide for his wife and children. Only his son John and daughter Pearl know the secret location of the stolen $10,000. As Ben is hung for his crime, Powell is released from his short sentence and attempts to work his way into the small rural community and con the family out of the money.
Released in 1955 the film hasn't aged a day, and thanks to this glorious restoration the deep blacks and looming shadows look incredibly crisp, truly highlighting the exceptional cinematography which has more in common with the eccentricities and inventiveness of German expressionism than traditional Hollywood. An intriguing use of foreground gives scenes a real voyeuristic depth that, along with its surreal atmosphere, seduces you into Powell's sinister tale. Hinging on the killer-cum-preacher's pursuit of the money and his penetration into the grieving family's life, `The Night of the Hunter' is awash with tension and mystery that keep it driving forward - but what really makes the experience so uniquely arresting is its creeping, unnerving atmosphere. Spiked with pure blackness it is still powerfully able to shock, delving into surprisingly nightmarish areas that seem at odds with the film's idealised Deep South aesthetic.
Steeped in religious iconography and parable it's a timeless story of the powers of good and evil - as the preacher's tattoos attest - and it paints both sides with the heaviest of strokes. Powell couldn't possibly be more sinister, and the angelic John is so thoroughly pure of heart in the face of this overwhelming devilish force that our sympathies with him are unbreakable from the moment he bids farewell to his father. Rightfully so `The Night of the Hunter' is mainly remembered for the astounding performance by Robert Mitchum, a terrifying screen presence burning with Old Testament psychosis, even more unnerving for the kindly public face behind which it is concealed - an instantly iconic role that ranks among the most ominous of screen villains.
Awash with chocolate box Southern beauty and lyrical biblical verse, this is an intelligent, accomplished film - although sadly the only one Charles Laughton ever directed. Within its suspense it contains something of the contrivance of religion - good intentions and moral fortitude sitting alongside the judgement and hate they can fuel. Containing several striking scenes and unforgettable imagery `The Night of The Hunter' is a remarkable piece of work positioned curiously between white picket fenced golden age Hollywood sentimentality and a place far more threatening. Genuinely timeless, with layers of beauty and psychological unease this is truly a special film, an unexpectedly black Southern saga of the highest order.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 6 December 2013
The Night of the Hunter is a curious beast. It appears to the casual viewer as a simple tale of murderous preacher discovering the whereabouts of a stolen haul of cash and a battle of wits with a boy who knows where it is hidden. In a sense this IS the plot of the film.
However there is so much more to this tale than that.
British actor Charles Laughton made only one film as director and many see this as a master class. It is a very stylised picture and some suspension of belief and an appreciation of the art form is required. Laughton has filled the movie with shadows, reflections, silhouettes and framed scenes. There is a lot here that could suggest you are looking at a painting.
Scenes do jar from location filming to set dressed stages but that is part of its appeal. There is a chapter where the two child characters float down the river and just about every wildlife critter you can think of gets a front of screen cameo. The image of the underwater discovery is another standout.
It is also a difficult film to pigeon hole. You would think that the darker elements of horror would conflict with the collection of small town caricatures and the arrival of Lillian Gish's `Foster' mother. Even a teenage romance is briefly thrown in. the scene of a line of children following Gish's character like ducks could come straight out of a 50's musical yet it compliments the scene of a dead woman found by kids at the head of the movie. It even turns into a Christmas family film at one point.
Robert Mitchum's Preacher has become an iconic picture, leaning on the fence with "Love" and "Hate" tattooed on his knuckles. It's an acting tour-de-force at turns sinister, violent, melodramatic and comedic.
Shelley Winters is second billed but appears to do little more than stare into the distance. In fairness this is not her story.
stand out here is Billy Chapin as John, the boy who promised his criminal father that he would not tell anyone where the stolen money was hidden. His defiance against the Preacher keeps the movie grounded in reality. His performance is not usually intruded on by a visual effect or a stylised pose. He is(as are the children in To Kill a Mocking Bird) the storyteller here and the character we are all rooting for. It's a great performance from Chapin who has not been marred by bad child acting.
There is a Two Hour plus Documentary come behind the scenes feature. It is fascinating in watching how a film of this age was made and an insight to the life and film making style of Laughton. It's nice to hear an isolated music score as well. Not enough releases have this.
To sum up, this film is best suited to movie lovers who can appreciate how this film was made and to those who can suspend a little bit of disbelief. The story is simple and straightforward but you need to look at the film as a whole. You will be rewarded.
Arrow continue to bring out excellent releases
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2010
A fine example of the "one man's meat is another man's poison" cliche, this film is a fantastic masterpiece to those, like me, who succumb to its wonderful magic, and an incomprehensibly overrated disappointment to those who don't.
It is almost impossible to categorise: is it gothic horror, thriller or dark (and occasionally sentimental) fairytale? Perhaps a combination of all three, and it is indeed in moments of transition that some of the haunting nature of this movie is revealed. As Mitchum's terrifying pursuit of the childrens segues into their river escape, the tone switches from nailbiting terror to gorgeous "magic reality" in the wake of his roar of disappointment, ready for the good fairy (Lilian Gish) to turn up downriver. Just to name my own favourite moment; there are plenty of others (the wife at the bottom of the river being the most oft-quoted). And what stunning, overwrought yet just right, performances there are from Mitchum (possibly his best ever), Winters and others.
Anyone coming to this film expecting a simple, unified, realistic narrative will indeed be disappointed, but those ready to give themselves to a world of symbol and shadow, light and darkness (what fantastic cinematography!), and pure, fairytale good and evil need seek no further. This is not an "old" film: it is timeless, and eternally beautiful. Don't be afraid; jump in and submerge yourself. But don't drown...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A religious maniac marries an idiotic widow and mother of two children in the hope of finding out where the $10,000 is hidden that the now executed husband and father garnered from a robbery.
Upon release back in 1955, the critics of the time kicked this first directorial effort from Charles Laughton to such a degree he never directed again. Watching the film now and observing the tide of praise for it as each year goes by, one can only hope that those critics were rounded up and sent to a faraway island to learn about how to view with open heart.
The Night Of The Hunter is to me quite simply one of the greatest film's ever laid down on the screen. Firstly you have to ask yourself exactly what genre the film belongs to? That alone should lead you to find out that the film is something different, even unique, because it covers so many bases. Perhaps that is what the critics back then couldn't quite fathom? Is it Crime? Is it a Thriller? Horror, Drama, Noir, even a terrifying mother goose fairytale (that last one was Laughton's terming of his masterpiece), truth is, is that it's a multitude of earthly traits masquerading as a good versus evil parable.
The work on the film is as good as it gets, the direction from Laughton is sublime, his visual style alone makes the film a feast for the sharp eye connoisseur. Observe some of the cutaway sets, take in the expressionist use of shadows, an underwater sequence that is gorgeous yet terrifying at the same time. I dare you to stop the hairs on your neck standing up on end as the silhouette of Mitchum's evil preacher Harry Powell looms large over the children at bedtime. The film is full of striking images that in themselves are telling the story, witness the pursuit of the children by Powell, the children's river journey is all dreamy and calm, rabbits, frogs and spiders all are prominent to give the feeling that the kids are safe, cut to Powell all in black, cloaked in evil, always one step away from his prey, perhaps a devil in priests attire?
The acting is top draw, Mitchum (in a career making role) plays it perfect, evil personified mixed with gentle panto fusion at just the right times. Lilian Gish, in what surely has to be one of the great feminine roles of all time, is precious, quite simply precious, while the children are a believable delight because Laughton has got us viewing this uncertain world through such untainted eyes. Crowning it off is the cinematography from Stanley Cortez, I can only describe it as bleakly beautiful, it impacts on the eyes as much as the head as this truly majestic piece of work unfolds.
If you don't see this as a masterpiece then I urge you to watch it every year until you do. Because when it hits you, that bit that you just didn't get, it's the point when you realise why you love cinema after all. 10/10 in every respect.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2011
Charles Laughton's one and only foray into directing has left us with a unique and almost unclassifiable work.
Non-Christians may find the Blblical tincture - especially during the few minutes intro - just a wee bit stifling, but it does set the social tenor of the time and place. Otherwise it's a fascinating piece of cinema.
Robert Mitchum gives a truly nightmarish turn as a psychotic misogynist with Messianic delusions. He talks to God, and there are hints of a serial killing spree during his soliloquies. It's obvious he's insane. He dresses in black with a broad-brimmed hat and presents the very incarnation of wickedness.
Whist in prison, he meets an inmate facing the death-penalty and learns that this man has stolen and hidden $10,000. Upon his own release he decides to go in search - all in God's name, of course. Some of the encounters are classic cinema scarefest. The story mingles childhood innocence and wonder with ruthless villainy. The executed man has entrusted the money to his children, and we are induced to view the story almost from a child's perspective. There are so many strange and magical scenes played out against the brooding terror of Preacher Powell's influence that the movie has to be watched and watched again. Portentous, threatening cords signal his approach, when closer he can be heard singing some religious anthem. A second theme represents the children. It has a lilting, lullaby score that is once sung by the little girl.
You make of this what you will. Laughton and Mitchum created the template for every sinister lunatic and bogeyman that came after and set it within a lyrical fairly-tail about good and evil, corruption and innocence. It's a spell-binding work.
The Amazon DVD supplied is unrestored but in good order. It is B&W, has an 89min runtime, and 4:3 aspect ratio. It has a `12' viewing rate, which is certainly appropriate. Extras are minimal.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
As you've probably gathered most of the reviews are for the 'DVD' version of Charles Laughton’s dark masterpiece “The Night Of The Hunter”. And the BLU RAY has long been available in the States and several other territories. But which issue do you buy if you live in Blighty?
Unfortunately the uber-desirable USA Criterion release is REGION-A LOCKED - although it doesn't say so on Amazon. So it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't). Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.
Luckily the Arrow Academy issue is REGION B - so that will play the Robert Mitchum classic on UK machines (and it uses the same restored elements).
So check you’re player’s region coding acceptability if you want the pricier Criterion release (which is said to have a stunning transfer)...if not…opt for the UK released Arrow Academy BLU RAY (the Euro “Masters Of Cinema” version is about the same price)…
53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2002
I just got a DVD player and this is the 1st film I had to buy. You have not seen it until you see it clear and bright as the lighting and photography of this true masterpiece are also in the starring roles here. There is no other movie like it (which explains why it bombed so unjustly at release time) and I for one believe it to be at least one of the top 10 of all times. The people who do not like this simply do not get this as it escapes all labelling and takes you from opposites genres to emotions.This is best viewed with a child eye view as the story is told through(largely) a child point of view. it is one of the greatest film of all times and if you give it a bit of your time and undivided attention it will enthrall you, make you smile, scare the bejesus out of you and leave you with so many haunting images that you will carry with you for ever,(Shelley Winters in the lake, Mitchum jumping in front of Gish and her gun, LOVE and HATE knuckles...You will be humming LEANING,LEANING also for a long time) If you never see another film, just see this one as even though it is a classic it is also approachable by anyone who has ever been thrilled by cinema, connoisseur or just movie goer...
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2001
This is one of the finest movies ever made in any genre. If it doesn't transcend genre entirely. It is almost impossible to catagorise, as there are elements of many genres within it, including; horror, comedy, sentimental classic and crime. Laughton's direction, together with stanley cortez's cinematography, make this a feast of delights and eye candy that can go as far as to rival Orson Welles' Citizen Kane in his expansive use of technical innovations.
There are many fantastic scenes available within this classic but it is the children's trip down the river as they escape from Powell, one of the most encharting sequences in cinema, that sticks in the mind the longest. Frogs, rabbits, and even spiders look on, protect even, as the fairy-tale like drift down the river continues until the idyll is broken as they wake in the hayloft and hear the tones of Powell's singing.
It's a picture of utter, simpering mendacity driven by mitchum's delicious performance. There's been nothing like it on screen before or since.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2006
Charles Laughton directs this experimental project from the mid 1950s. The end results are positive and the movie has gone on to attain cult status amongst horror aficionados.
Using a blend of european cinematic style and the theatrical melodrama usually seen on stage, the director engages the viewer in this story of the eternal struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. The not so good Reverend Harry Powell impresses and seduces the simple, god-fearing folk of rural America with a well rehearsed pastiche of how good eventually triumphs, with his tatooed hands playing the lead roles.
Good may win the day but evil has a flick-knife and he certainly ain't afeared to use it.
The film is memorable for its cinematographic value with some of the sets outrageous in their beauty and dramatic effect. The juxtaposition of Mitchum's evil (which he exudes superbly)and the innocence and simplicity of the seemingly-helpless children at his mercy, is striking and, at times, disturbing. In the end, salvation comes from an unlikey source, the outwardly benign old Miss Cooper, plyed by Lilian Gish. She is not so easily fooled and as a protector, she is not to be under-estimated.
This is a "must own" film for any one who takes cinema seriously. The action is subtly terrifying, not gory in the style of more contemporary films but thought-provoking and spiritually haunting. You will hear the insane and evil Harry Powell's remorseless hollering of hymns, in your head for some time after the end credits appear.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
The best kind of horror comes not from monsters or ghosts, but from other human beings. "Cape Fear," "Heavenly Creatures," and other such movies are brilliant examples of this.
But one of the most compelling examples is "Night of the Hunter," a haunting movie that slowly descends into an exquisitely-filmed, brilliantly-acted nightmare about a malign preacher and the two children who are trying to escape. Like an old fairy tale, it's full of terror, magic, beauty and darkness.
Murderous preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is arrested for car theft, since the police don't know that his hatred of women has led him to repeated murder. He shares a prison cell with bank robber Ben Harper (Peter Graves), who stole ten thousand dollars. Powell tries to coax the location of the money from Harper, but the thief takes it to his grave. Only his son John (Billy Chapin) knows its location.
Upon his release, Powell arrives in Harper's town, claiming that he wants to "bring this small comfort to [Ben's] loved ones." Everyone is taken in by him, including his new wife -- Ben's gullible widow, Willa (Shelley Winters). When she vanishes, John and his little sister Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) must escape their evil stepfather -- even though he's determined to hunt them down and find the money.
When it was first released, "Night of the Hunter" flopped completely. Not very surprising -- the 1950s audiences weren't ready for the unconventional villains, rich symbolism, or the fact that an actor had dared to stray into a director's chair. Fortunately, it lived on as a cult film, and is now regarded as a classic.
It's especially sad that Laughton never directed again, because this is simply astonishing. It feels like a fairy tale, with Powell as the wicked witch, and the children as the protected innocents who are helped by a "fairy godmother." Laughton also loads it down with sexual and religious symbolism -- the LOVE and HATE tattoos, the switchblade, the eerie sacrifice scene.
Best of all is the cinematography. Beauty and horror are inextricably tied together: the dead Willa with "her hair waving soft and lazy like meadow grass under flood water," or the little river animals watching the children escape under a starlit sky. But there are also moments of pure terror, such as the preacher's shadow falling over the kids, or calling out as they're hiding, "I'm out of patience, children. I'm coming to find you now..."
Robert Mitchum played another evil stalker several years later in the superb "Cape Fear," but this performance is even better. His Powell is a seething mass of murderous fervour and sexual hatred -- his intense eyes are enough to give you goosebumps.
He's also backed by some excellent performances -- Chapin is amazing as the little boy determined to obey his father and somehow stop Powell. Bruce and Winters turn in some solid performances, and veteran Lillian Gish has a good supporting role as the kindly Rachel.
As chilling and compelling as when it was first released, "Night of the Hunter" is a vibrant, primal experience, and nobody has quite come close to what it portrays.