Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Review of The Night of The Hunter

In response to my review of The Devil and Daniel Webster, I received a great movie recommendation from Mantan Calaveras. His suggestion was The Night of the Hunter, another Depression era story about good and evil. After watching the movie, I can see why he recommended it to me! I had a similar feeling after watching this as I did after watching The Devil and Daniel Webster. I thought of it as a classic and wondered why I hadn't heard of it before now.

The Night of the Hunter is a beautifully shot, eerie movie. If you are into that black and white, shadowy Hitchcock style of filming, you are sure to appreciate this. Even scenes that should feel morbid feel like a work of art. I learned on the DVD commentary that they were going for a German Expressionist look at some points and I can see that. There were moments that were heavy on the shadows and surreal, like a dream sequence. There are slight exaggerations in the visuals and heavy symbolism.

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Although I'm anxious to go through the entire plot and give all my opinions, I'm going to attempt to not spoil too much of the movie. You're sure to be on pins and needles while watching parts of this and I'd hate to ruin that by giving away any spoilers. So I'll give you a brief outline and tell you a little about the characters.

The movie opens with a beautiful country scene. Children are playing hide and seek in a field. The scene is shot from above, so you get an idea of how spacious and remote the area is. A little boy goes to hide in an open cellar. He looks in the door and sees a woman's legs laying on the ground. With this brief subtle moment, we see a killer has come through the area. We soon get an idea of who this killer is with the help of his monologues to "God". This killer poses as a preacher named Harry Powell. Harry reveals to the viewer that God always provides for him by bringing him in contact with women who have money - women that he kills.


This serial killer presumably travels through the countryside, kills vulnerable women, and moves on to con the next town. Robert Mitchum plays the psychopathic fake preacher with total snake oil salesman charm. He's perfect. At some moments he reminded me of those over the top TV evangelists in the 80s. Harry has tattoos across his knuckles. One hand spells "LOVE" and the other "HATE". He will sometimes try to explain/preach to people in a cheeseball way about the meaning of these words. Unfortunately, we see a lot more action from the hate hand than the love hand.
 
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Meanwhile, while Harry is trolling for his next victim, a man (Peter Graves) hurries home and finds his young son in the yard. The man has just stolen $10,000 from a bank and killed two people in the process. He frantically hides the money, telling his son the location. He makes his son promise not to tell anyone where the money is, not even the boy's mother. This ends up making a lot of sense, as the boy's mom is a bit simpleminded. 
Peter Graves and Billy Chapin. Night of the Hunter. 1955.
Oh, he’s so beautiful in this film…
Peter Graves and Billy Chapin. This little boy did an amazing job in his role.
Soon after the boy promises to keep the money hidden and take of his little sister, his father is arrested on the lawn. He is taken to prison, where he waits to be hanged. While in prison, who should he end up bunking with, but Harry the psycho "preacher" who has been jailed for car theft. Harry tries to get the location of the money from his new bunk mate, but it's not going to happen. After Harry is released he decides he will get his hands on the $10,000 in the way he knows best - by charming the thief's widow.

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The widow is Willa, played by Shelley Winters. Willa is sweet but easily coerced. She's also in the traumatized and vulnerable position of having just lost her husband to an execution and in care of two small children. She is a perfect target for a man like Harry. Sadly, a lot of women would be. He is attractive and charming. I remember reading a true crime book with a story about a modern man who married multiple women and kept killing them for the giant life insurance policies he'd take out on them. (The story was in A Rose For Her Grave by Ann Rule, for anyone who is interested.)  He'd always target newly divorced or widowed women with kids. This could work for a number of reasons. Add in that The Night of the Hunter takes place during The Depression, and you have an even higher level of desperation for these women. This desperation might give them reason to overlook a few things about a handsome man who comes to town.

Poor Willa. She's in a constant state of worn out worry through this entire movie.

Willa marries Harry on what feels like the day after she met him! Immediately, she sees his dark side. This guy doesn't even pretend to be nice for a few days. As soon as he gets what he wants from people, Harry is done with them. It's hard to watch Willa's married scenes with him. It's like watching the process of abuse and brainwashing. The more cruel Harry is to her, the more Willa tries to please him. She is in firm denial of his many faults and only blames herself for his problems. She's even in denial when her son tells her that Harry is pressing him for information on where the $10,000 is hidden. 

Eventually, even poor oppressed Willa can't deny that Harry is only in this marriage for the $10,000. She overhears him threatening her little girl in hopes of getting the money. This is where I'm going to stop giving too many details. You can probably guess where things are going for Willa.

the night of the hunter animated GIF

Willa's children end up on the run from Harry, hence the title "Night of the Hunter". During their journey, you will see many beautiful images of nature. Rabbits and frogs take on a magic quality. It's like a child's dream, or at least a break from reality. The children run across many other children who are starving and roaming the countryside alone. I'm going to assume this was someone's accurate view of The Depression. I knew times were bleak, and many kids ended up in orphanages or other people's care, but I didn't know this many were wandering alone in the wilderness.

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The two children have the infinite luck of being found by a farm woman, played by Lillian Gish. This woman acts the way any of us could hope to act in a tough situation. She has a quiet strength about her. I can't imagine anyone else in the role. She is described in the DVD commentary as a guardian angel, and I think that's about right. A caring but tough angel.

The Night of the Hunter

One of the things I loved most about her character is the way she sees through the fakery of the "preacher". When he feeds her the same phoney lines and con man routine that we've seen work on other people, she just casts him a look like "Don't give me that B.S." I loved it. 

The movie ends up being a pretty clear-cut good vs. evil story. Some people have described it as a dark fairytale. I was left haunted by some of the scenes. They were just that convincing! I think many of you would enjoy watching this movie. It is dark, but it's also beautiful to watch, and surprisingly funny at times.

14 comments:

  1. I love this movie for all the reasons you mentioned above!...Except for the ending! I remember it being very boring and drawn out, and nearly ruined the experience for me.

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    1. Chris ~ I thought you might like this movie. It is very well filmed and in a way that borrowed some tricks from the old silent movies. I think there's something for everyone to appreciate in it, especially for those who like spooky movies.

      It's hard for me to discuss the ending, since I'm trying not to give it away... Maybe I can answer you in a vague way. The ending came as a surprise to me in some ways. While it wasn't maybe the most realistic, I thought it brought the story to a nice conclusion. I'd been wondering how on earth something like this could end. This is probably about as well as things could go for most of the characters! I'd actually been suspecting things would go in a different direction, and I was relieved that they didn't. I was sitting there worrying that Harry was a certain character's estranged son...

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  2. This sounds very intriguing. I can't wait to check it out. You did a wonderful job analyzing and dissecting this.

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    1. Midnyte Reader ~ Thank you! I'd like to have analyzed and dissected it further, but I didn't want to give too much away! There were a few characters I didn't mention that are also worth analyzing. This is the kind of story that could inspire a lot of discussions! I hope you have a chance to give it a watch. If you do, let me know what you think!

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  3. I'm glad you liked it. It's definitely one of my favorites.

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    1. Mantan ~ I'm glad that you noticed this blog post! After writing it, I realized that I didn't have a way of getting in touch with you. I guess I could have left a comment on your blog about it. Thanks again for the suggestion!

      This movie is a classic in my mind. It's a bit more serious than The Devil and Daniel Webster, probably because it's more realistic. The Night of The Hunter feels like a true crime story, or at least close enough to some actual crimes. Still, there were some parts that made me laugh. Do you have the DVD set with the extra disc that shows Charles Laughton directing? It's an interesting inside look into how a movie is made. Although, I doubt most directors are as much of a perfectionist as we see him being!

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  4. This looks well-done and creepy. And I love Robert Mitchum. He's good at playing bad guys. Looks like I can rent this from iTunes for $2.99, so I'll have to check it out!

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    1. Matt ~ It is! Oddly, this is my first time watching Robert Mitchum in any movie. He was perfect in his role. He's downright scary. When I watched some of the behind the scenes extras I got to see him as someone who was sometimes silly and joking around. I was also relieved to see him as someone who was good with the kids. There are times when I see an actor play a villain so well that I need to see them being nice to believe they could be!

      That's cool that you can rent this from iTunes. I've never rented any movies from iTunes. How long do you have to watch them? I hope the second disc is included in what you are able to watch. What I ended up with from the library was a two disc set. The second disc had a long documentary showing the director in action. I couldn't believe how many times they had to redo some of those scenes!

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    2. Yeah, he was in a lot of movies I saw growing up - like Westerns. From what I recall he plays a lot of guy's who are edgy and on the wrong side of the law. I can see why he would be perfect for this. He"s big, ominous, and can seem sinister.

      Basically, iTunes is a 24hr rental that you can start any time in 30 days. Once you start the movie you have 24hrs to watch it as many times as you want. So, it's 3 or 4 dollars for one day. But there are no extra's with these movies. They're anywhere from 800mb to 1.2GB and take about an hour to download, give or take. I like it because you can use those iTunes cards from the store and you don't have to use your credit card online.

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    3. Matt ~ Part of what's so scary about him in this movie is that he switches from acting sweet and innocent to being sinister. That's actually more scary to me than someone who is mean all the time. He was very unpredictable. Aside from seeming tall and looming, he also had a deep, spooky voice.

      Thanks for the iTunes information! I might consider giving it a shot. It could be handy for those times when you can't find an old movie. It sounds like they have quite a selection! I like the idea of buying iTunes cards. It seems lately like there are more and more reasons to be concerned with internet privacy and hackers!

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  5. I'm a big fan of your blog! I keep meaning to ask if you've heard of Countdown to Halloween. It's basically just a bunch of bloggers writing about Halloween the month of October. You should check it out! http://www.countdowntohalloween.com/

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    1. Natalie ~ Thank you! :) I've heard about the Countdown to Halloween, but I think I've always been too busy to take part in it. October is a super busy month for me! Still, I'll take a look at the site you sent.

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  6. Added to my "must watch" list. isn't amazing when these old black and whites can hold our attention? No CGI, no real special effects, just a damn good story and great acting, you gotta love it!

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    1. Mark ~ Yes, it deserves to make your "must watch" list! I know you'll like this movie. Anyone who is into spooky things will appreciate the use of shadows and the menacing villain. I think the old black and white movies are often more effective than the new ones. I'm at the point with CGI where I'm just taking it for granted. Another explosion? Meh. It's a lot more scary when a movie takes its time and builds some suspense!

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