5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An unnerving noir masterpiece,
This review is from: The Night of the Hunter [DVD]  (DVD)
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.