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theoddone33

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

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I looked for an existing topic but came up empty. Is there an ahem coming?

I just watched this as part of my "catch up on cinema" initiative, and I have to say that it was great. I'll certainly never be able to hear or sing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms again without thinking of the dependably creepy Harry Powell. The scene where he rode across the horizon in silloutte while singing was quite simply superb. On a technical level I was very impressed with how well this film created suspense, though at some times the suspense it built up didn't match up to the story.

On a spiritual level I'm not quite sure I've got a handle on the film completely. I suppose a great way to drive home the point that children can endure a great deal is to portray about the craziest and most scarring ordeal a child can go through. I'm not sure I agree with the "oh they'll be ok, they're children" idea the film seemed to put forth. Honestly it's more interesting to me as an early version of Frailty than as a treatise on childlike faith. But I'm almost certain I missed something.

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"Ruining great hymns since 1955"

Ha!

On a technical level I was very impressed with how well this film created suspense, though at some times the suspense it built up didn't match up to the story.
Could you expand on this?

On a spiritual level I'm not quite sure I've got a handle on the film completely.  I suppose a great way to drive home the point that children can endure a great deal is to portray about the craziest and most scarring ordeal a child can go through.  I'm not sure I agree with the "oh they'll be ok, they're children" idea the film seemed to put forth.
Yeah, that would seem too rosy. For me, the film is more a ringing challenge to care for children than a blithe statement that they will do fine on their own. I love the contrast the film creates between the false spirituality of Powell (violence, power, fearmongering, greed, you name it) versus the genuine spirituality expressed by Lillian Gish (selflessness, caregiving, strength). She was a completely "random" person for the children to encounter but she's the first real parent they've ever had, and for me, that's very significant.

I also love how the film illustrates the negative aspects of social psychology plastered with spiritual rhetoric; how the sunny, small town idealism and religious rules of the game virtually pave the way for abuse...and then becomes the driving force behind the mob at the end of the film as well. Meanwhile, Lillian Gish avoids it all, sees through Powell's wolf in sheep's clothing (that scene of him communing with the moonlight before he murders his wife still make me shiver--he's practically a werewolf), and decisively whisks the children away while the mob pursues vengeance. She's always one step ahead of the capricious crowd and she always puts the childrens' needs first. What a great role for an older woman (not the usual Hollwood model)--sensitive, strong, and wise. Gish was perfectly cast.

Honestly it's more interesting to me as an early version of Frailty than as a treatise on childlike faith.
Very interesting...I'm not familiar with this?

And the film's cinematography is simply stunning in shot after shot. It might be the best looking American film I know.

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Yeah, this is a great movie. An e-pal of mine used to say her favorite expression was "That's just flap-doodle," which she gleaned from this movie. smile.gif

FWIW, we don't seem to have a thread on Frailty at this board yet, but this was my review.

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NOW Number 131 on my netflix queue. And considering I'm watching 3.5 movies a week. I'll get back to you on it in... April of 2006. smile.gif

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Well it's been quite a while since I've watched this now, so I couldn't say exactly what I meant when I mentioned that the suspense didn't quite go anywhere all the time. In retrospect, I'm ok with the movie on pretty much every front. It's great.

The tie to Frailty is interesting, though weak... as in the newer film

the killers act on the same authority as Harry Powell but are vindicated by the story

. I really like Frailty, which happens to be another movie that created suspense very well, though much more gradually than Night of the Hunter.

Another interesting discussion point for me is Spike Lee's homage to Night of the Hunter in Do the Right Thing. I don't understand its place or purpose in the latter film, but I find it an interesting homage nonetheless.

Actually, it occurs to me that Spielberg's War of the Worlds also focused on children dealing with an incredibly traumatic experience. There are probably some interesting comparisons to be found in that.

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NOW Number 131 on my netflix queue.  And considering I'm watching 3.5 movies a week.  I'll get back to you on it in... April of 2006. smile.gif

Dan,

Simple solution: Move it WAY up in your queue! This one should not be missed...or even delayed. smile.gif

I love this film, in case you can't tell. You know, I've seen my library's VHS copy twice, but I've never seen this on DVD. I'm going to have to add it to my queue. I wonder if the DVD has any good extras....

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Nah, it has nuthin'. It probably looks crisper than the VHS copy, and it can be bought probably for $10, but it is unfortunately featureless.

I've heard a couple of times that a rerelease was coming from MGM. I wish this was a Warner title. There was a new print showed a few years ago, so the elements are there.

I can't recall exactly, but I thought there was mention of some additional scenes in the restored print.

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There wouldn't be additional scenes, but Night of the Hunter is one of the few Hollywood films whose rushes still exist, and at UCLA a couple years ago, they had a special presentation of those rushes, which included several previous takes of many scenes. What a great DVD extra that would make; apparently, you can appreciate the way Laughton shaped his final scenes, especially the performances from take to take. And of course, the film could always use a critical commentary.

There are some books about the film currently in print, too, including:

Edited by Doug C

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Cool, there's actually a whoile article on the rushes in the Guardian:

"When we opened these boxes, we found more than 80,000ft of picture and sound trims of varying lengths, all confusingly wound together on dozens of interleaved rolls.

I had time to assemble only the first 20 minutes or so of this material before I left the AFI in November 1975 and moved to Los Angeles. The rushes remained in storage in the attic of the Kennedy Centre until 1981, when Karr arranged to send them to me at UCLA Film and Television Archive where I was now working. Over the next 20 years, all the material was gradually identified and reassembled with help from fellow UCLA staff members and work-study students.

Finally, in the summer of 2002, the assembly work was completed, and preservationist Nancy Mysel and I put together a programme of two-and-a-half hours of the most interesting rushes for showing at UCLA's Festival of Preservation. It was very exciting to present these pieces of film that no one had seen since Laughton and film editor Robert Golden discarded them in the editing process more than 45 years before.

The rushes are very revealing. Because Laughton did not want to break the mood, he often kept the camera running between takes as he coached and interacted with the actors. We hear his off-screen voice directing and motivating each performer. He lavishes considerable attention on the children, Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce, and he works prodigiously to mould the performance of Winters. He is less apt to closely coach the more experienced actors - James Gleason, Mitchum and Gish.

Even so, during the course of the rushes, Laughton gets to play every character in the film. As an actor turned director, he is the consummate performer who can portray any role - man, woman or child - with ease. You almost get the impression that Laughton would have been happiest if he could have dispensed with the cast and played all the parts himself."

The Hidden Hunter

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Man, I'd love to see a disc of just those rushes. Talk about a documentary that lends insight into the filmmaking process-- could it get better than this?

When the AFI goes about picking films to pimp, or film-related programs or docus to fund, I wish they'd settle on this one.

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nightofthehunter.jpg

wow, just saw this one again, it had been years

Also recently found Ebert's review of it for the first time - Roger Ebert - The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter'' (1955) is one of the greatest of all American films, but has never received the attention it deserves because of its lack of the proper trappings. Many ``great movies'' are by great directors, but Laughton directed only this one film, which was a critical and commercial failure long overshadowed by his acting career. Many great movies use actors who come draped in respectability and prestige, but Robert Mitchum has always been a raffish outsider. And many great movies are realistic, but ``Night of the Hunter'' is an expressionistic oddity, telling its chilling story through visual fantasy. People don't know how to categorize it, so they leave it off their lists.

Yet what a compelling, frightening and beautiful film it is! And how well it has survived its period. Many films from the mid-1950s, even the good ones, seem somewhat dated now, but by setting his story in an invented movie world outside conventional realism, Laughton gave it a timelessness. Yes, the movie takes place in a small town on the banks of a river. But the town looks as artificial as a Christmas card scene, the family's house with its strange angles inside and out looks too small to live in, and the river becomes a set so obviously artificial it could have been built for a completely stylized studio film like "Kwaidan" (1964) ...

Then this from Wikipedia -

The film's lyric and expressionistic style sets it apart from almost all other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 50s, and has influenced later directors such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, and the Coen Brothers.

Funny thing is, I've talked to other people who said they didn't like this one. And? They had stopped watching it after the first half-hour because it was "Christian bashing." I'm not sure I succeeded at finding the words to explain to them that they had absolutely no idea what they had missed after turning it off so early. It does sort of look like one of those at the beginning come to think of it. Lillian Gish doesn't even show up until the last 45 minutes or so. I had seen this years ago, but before I had started thinking too critically about films. After seeing it the other night ... whoa ... it held all of us in the room spellbound. I can't believe how good this is.

Made in 1955, and it's still both breath-taking and disturbing. I also can't believe Charles Laughton never directed another film after this because this was a financial, box office, and film critic failure.

The ending! I cannot stress the last 20 minutes of this movie enough! If you have ever given up on this one, if you were dissapointed at the crazy stupid Christians in this one, it's only because you didn't see the last 20 minutes. I'm still amazed. I really wish Laughton had directed more than one movie. Guess it's time to pull out my old copies of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, This Land Is Mine, Les Miserables, Tales of Manhattan, The Canterville Ghost, and Witness for the Prosecution.

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Funny, I was just thinking last night about the comment (by Darren, perhaps?) regarding the lack of Hollywood studio films from the mid 20th Century in the Top 100, and how I would nominate this film and possibly 'Rear Window' to make up for that current absence.

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Rear Window is a great film, but what makes it "spiritually significant" moreso than, say, Strange Cargo or any of a handful of early Sidney Poitier films?

It's probably time that I revisit Night of the Hunter ... and to help un-ruin the hymn, I humbly submit this.

Edited by mrmando

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Rear Window is a great film, but what makes it "spiritually significant" moreso than, say, Strange Cargo or any of a handful of early Sidney Poitier films?

I suppose it's the way it contrasts detached, curious viewing with actual involvement in others' lives - probably even more relevant today in our media-saturated world, when we can watch starvation, oppression, and exploitation unfold, and choose whether to respond or silently be complicit.

I'm not familiar with Strange Cargo, so I can't intelligently compare/contrast it with Rear Window.

Edited by Andrew

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Andrew wrote:

: I suppose it's the way it contrasts detached, curious viewing with actual involvement in others' lives - probably even more relevant today in our media-saturated world, when we can watch starvation, oppression, and exploitation unfold, and choose whether to respond or silently be complicit.

TV was a lot more sanitized in Hitchcock's day than it is now, of course, but your point here reminds me that Rear Window was, itself, produced only a few years after TV became a mainstream phenomenon, and indeed it came out just one year before Hitchcock created his own TV show. So it wouldn't surprise me if critics had been seeing the film partly as a metaphor for TV-watching -- with each apartment its own channel -- from day one.

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Looks like you guys still haven't started nominations for your 2011 Top 100 list yet, but this would be the first missing film I'd nominate.

I just showed this again to some different friends who I found had never ever heard of it before. In fact, as a rule, they never watched black and white movies. And, well, they were captivated.

Why should it go in the Top 100 most spiritually significant films? I know other films have done this, but this is the best example I can think of a wolf-in-sheep's clothing, a bad guy who's the one Christian character in the story and he's fooling almost everyone else (except for two children). It's not until towards the end of the film that the two children find real Christianity in Lillian Gish's character. And the contrast between Mitchum and Gish's characters is the contrast between night and day.

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If that A&F Top Ten Horror Films list comes to be, I think this could prove to be a very, very worthy contender. And yeah, I'd welcome it showing up on the A&F 100, too (though didn't we ditch the "spiritually significant" tag?).

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And yeah, I'd welcome it showing up on the A&F 100, too (though didn't we ditch the "spiritually significant" tag?).

Well, as per Overstreet's Eight Questions about Arts and Faith Top 100 Films, dated March 1, 2010 -

The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films is a list of films characterized both by artistic excellence and a serious wrestling with questions that at root might be called religious or spiritual.

So it's still to be distinguished by Arts and Faith, as opposed to just every other Top 100 list that starts out with The Godfather, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane, right? I'd lobby for The Night of the Hunter's inclusion in the list because, while some films do give an accurate depiction of a character's rightly living out their Christianity, and many other films portray a character's fake and hypocritical Christianity, rarely do you have a film where these two different characters meet. And rarely do you have a meeting between these two types of characters as dramatic and as amazing as in the last 15 minutes or so of The Night of the Hunter. And it all starts with singing along with a hymn, that has represented evil throughout the entire film, just a little bit differently.

Edited by Persiflage

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Huh. I thought "Arts & Faith" was supposed to refer to the community doing the voting, and not to the films that had been voted upon.

The Night of the Hunter is still a more than worthy recommendation either way, though.

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Huh. I thought "Arts & Faith" was supposed to refer to the community doing the voting, and not to the films that had been voted upon.

The criteria were fuzzy, but Greg suggested that the second half of the "Arts & Faith" label could be understood as implying a faith-related or spiritual dimension.

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I bought this wife as a present for her birthday (which came right before Christmas--December 17th), and our subsequent viewing has been sitting with me for a while. This film is never more effective than it is during the quiet, but tense, moments as the boat carrying the children journeys down the river. The music and the visuals come together just right.

Throughout, I couldn't help but think of Kubrick's LOLITA, that other film where Shelley Winters plays a woman who is married by a seedy individual not because of any affection for her, but because of interest in her offspring. It would certainly make for an interesting double-bill with THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, especially given the ways that both films are greatly concerned with sexuality. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER even has its own Humbert Humbert moment, when Powell essentially seduces Ruby into parting with information.

I must say that I don't quite like the conclusion of the film, with the Christmas presents and the simple "children endure" statement. In a film so uncompromisingly dark, this tag seems forced. That's not to say a downer ending would have been appropriate, because it wouldn't have been, but this specific ending seems too pat, especially after it's already been made clear that John has some fairly deep-set psychological baggage.

Edited by Ryan H.

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This is one of my all-time faves, and it compelled me to read the book it was based on, which I remember enjoying a lot though I don't remember enough specifically to say whether the movie follows the book's plot exactly, or if the book's ending is more in line with the darkness of the rest of the story. (a la THE BAD SEED book ending vs. movie ending, which had to do with the Hollywood morality code of the time...)

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Wow. Just rewatched in preparation for my blurb. There's a scene that brought tears to my eyes--I haven't seen anyone else note it, but I try not to read much before writing the blurb, so perhaps others have gone ahead and waxed poetic about it.

Anyway, spoilers for the scene, not necessarily for the film.

Harry Powell, of course, has "Love" and "Hate" tattooed on his knuckles. He makes quite a show of it and impresses Mrs. Spoon. But John recoils from him (rightly so). Later, John goes outside while Mrs. Cooper reads stories from the Bible--understandably, given his experience to date with adults who teach religion. Mrs. Cooper sends the kids to bed, except for John. She begins to darn a sock, and asks John to get a couple of apples. He returns, and places the apple in her lap while she sews. She doesn't say anything, but John touches her hand. He rubs her knuckles, just for a beat or too, then withdraws his hand. He watches her for another second, looking at her hand. And we see that it is bare, with no marks on it at all. But the whole scene threatened my manly resolve not to cry at movies given the grace she's extended to him and how its all been caught by Laughton on camera in that simple scene--no attention is paid to it, but its there and then that John realizes he's found real love.

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About ten years ago I attended a UCLA film archives "Film Preservation" symposium with unnamed "special guests," which turned out to be Martin Scorses, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Clint Eastwood. Each director had chosen clips to screen from classic films that had heavily influenced them. Spielberg's choice was Night of the Hunter and he said to everyone's astonishment that it was the film that was most influential on the making of E.T..

When Spielberg showed the clip

of the grandmother and Robert Mitchum singing "Leaning on Jesus", you could see Mitchum duck down quickly when the light when out. Spielberg noted that you couldn't see that on the then-available videos and dvds. I'll be looking to see if you can see it on the new Criterion disc.

Edited by Scott Derrickson

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