OTB#26: The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter. Charles Laughton. 1955. ⚅

Ooo. This is a good one, I think.

I may have seen this only once before? Or… I think I remember thinking the last time I saw this (in the 90s? at the Cinematheque?) that I must have seen it before, so I was probably scarred for life by this movie as a child.

Now John…

[ten minutes pass]

Man! Laughton is a very er efficient? storyteller. He sure packs a lot of exposition in these few minutes. Everything is telegraphed. But I think it calms down after he’s set things up…

And I love how utterly deranged and evil his preacher man is presented in such a short amount of time. And the floating Lillian Gish scene. Lillian Gish! I love it.

[half an hour passes]

How… just how did this ever get made? It’s got evil preachers and a bunch of frank sex talk. The performances are also just so weird. The kids do pretty straightforward stuff (and they’re great at it), but the adults are doing, like, 20s acting some of the time.

It’s amazing!

[another half hour passes]

Oh oh oh!

This song is so familiar:

No wonder Brokeback’s version (with vocals by Mary Hansen and Laetitia Sadier) had such resonance:

The only thing I remember remembering from this movie from my childhood are the scenes of the kids drifting down the river, and Lillian Gish’s Utopian commune. And somehow in my mind, it all connects to Wind in the Willows.

Those are such wonderful, powerful scenes of tranquillity after the horror of the Robert Mitchum scenes that it’s natural that those were the scenes I’d latch on to and retain. They’re still awesome. Literally.

[the end]

Man, that’s a roller-coaster of an ending. It’s… it’s a lot. No wonder people at the time were rather dubious towards the movie.

Laughton, of course, never made a movie again, and I can understand why the studios would be leery: It’s such an odd movie, and you may well suspect that it somehow come together as a fluke. Because it could have been a disaster, and instead it’s genius:


This start for Gregory as producer and Laughton as director is rich in promise but the completed product, bewitching at times, loses sustained drive via too many offbeat touches that have a misty effect.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

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