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37 Night of the Hunter 
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Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter, The 1955
This film was placed at #1 in a list of '50 Essential Films' in a recent issue of The Spectator, a weekly London magazine.

Quote:
Peter Hoskin and Matthew d’Ancona discuss The Spectator’s number one film, The Night of the Hunter

Md’A: So: The Night of the Hunter. What are we thinking, Pete? A black-and-white Fifties cinematic curiosity, directed by an actor who never directed again, which was received with pretty lukewarm reviews at the time? I mean: how exactly did that end up as The Spectator’s all-time favourite film?

PH: I actually think you’ve hit on most of the reasons there. Fifties Hollywood is an incredibly rich, even experimental, period in film history — just watch Singin’ in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard, The Searchers, Johnny Guitar, Track of the Cat or a hundred other films to be sure of that — but, even then, The Night of the Hunter stands out from the crowd: a ‘curiosity’ as you put it. It’s an oddly beguiling mix of noir thriller, fairytale and folk drama that I just don’t think any other film has ever matched, or even thought to try. That it was Charles Laughton’s first and only film as director just amplifies its allure and uniqueness. And that it was neglected by contemporary audiences and critics, while being more or less widely celebrated now, suggests how forward-looking it was.

Md’A: And he is using such simple material, such a simple story. It’s set in West
Virginia in the Thirties: Mitchum is the unnamed ‘Preacher’ — famous for the words ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tatooed on his fists — who preys on weak women. He learns in jail from Ben Harper (Peter Graves) that he has stashed the money from a robbery somewhere and — once Preacher is released and Ben is hanged — weds Ben’s widow Willa (Shelley Winters) in the hope of finding it. The plot hinges on his murder of Willa, pursuit of her children and final confrontation with the awesome Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper, who emerges as the guardian angel figure and Preacher’s providential nemesis. So simple. And yet within that framework Laughton is pushing so many boundaries: grafting a German expressionist aesthetic on to D.W. Griffith’s American pastoral, mixing up the grammar of film noir with the morality of Perrault’s fairytales. Amazing ambition.

PH: Yep, there’s a lot crammed in there. So much, in fact, that The Night of the Hunter feels like a distillation of film history. It really is a cineaste’s delight. Of course, Laughton had been part of that history for decades, only in front of the cameras, working with some of the greatest directors and producers in the business. You do have to wonder how much he was informed by that cinematic upbringing when it came to directing his own film. I can’t help but see parallels with The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932): a Universal horror film in which Laughton plays a bumbling aristocrat, and which features a similar blend of fantasy, pitch-black humour and dread. The same may be said of other Laughton vehicles like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle, 1939) or Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932). He’d certainly come into contact with monsters before Preacher rode onto the scene.

If you wanted to stretch the point, you could even say that Mitchum and Gish brought their own cinematic baggage — Gish as the typical heroine of Griffith’s epics, and Mitchum as the defining face of film noir. To some extent, Laughton’s got them playing their own archetypes, which is just one reason why the performances are so strong and multi-layered.

Md’A: What about its influence? I think the magic realism of the film, especially the scenes on the river, were very important to all subsequent films that explored the boundary between dream and reality. I’m even thinking of a film like Taxi Driver, but also (more obviously) directors such as David Lynch, Almódovar, Lars von Trier and so on. As for Preacher, is there a scarier villain in all cinema? I like to think he could take on Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter, De Niro in Cape Fear and Joe Pesci in Casino all at once! I think The Night of the Hunter is very much a beginning as well as an end in the history of film.

PH: All very true. Although I think its freshest, and possibly most influential, conceit is how it calls on the audience to do more than idly watch, how it asks us to invest in the cinematic illusion. Let me clarify. While it’s certainly a film for adults, so much of The Night of the Hunter is from a child’s eye view. We’ve mentioned the fairytale aspects, of course, and also that two of the main characters are children. I think Laughton is challenging us to look at his film with the wonder of youth: to fear Mitchum as the bogeyman, to love Lillian Gish as the kindly aunt, and to thereby feel the full resonance of this dark fairytale. Given the limp contemporary reaction to The Night of the Hunter, you’ve got to wonder whether Fifties audiences were quite ready for it.

Md’A: Truffaut said, I think, that The Night of the Hunter was a horror story seen through the eyes of children and that, for me, is its most audacious aspect. As you say, the boldness of this strategy probably passed most contemporary audiences by. But watch the scenes in The Shining seen specifically through the eyes of the psychic child and you know where their ultimate roots lie. In sum, I’m really thrilled we have chosen this particular film. For me, it encapsulates all that’s best in cinema. It’s an eccentric, provocative choice, for sure. But you’d expect nothing less from The Spectator. Wouldn’t you?





http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine ... -one.thtml


Fri Jul 31, 2009 3:11 pm
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Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter, The 1955
Interesting read. A few months ago I saw The Night of the Hunter and was a bit indifferent to it. After reading a few things about it I definitely feel the urge to give it a second viewing.


Fri Jul 31, 2009 7:43 pm
Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter, The 1955
rblount27 wrote:
Interesting read. A few months ago I saw The Night of the Hunter and was a bit indifferent to it. After reading a few things about it I definitely feel the urge to give it a second viewing.



Hey there

I can imagine many reactions to this movie - but not indifference

I'm intrigued to hear your thoughts upon reacquaintance

Rob


Fri Jul 31, 2009 9:57 pm
Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter, The 1955
Let me tell you the story of left hand and right hand.

One of the more disturbing films I have seen in quite some time. Mitchum is just pure evil in this role, nothing less. He is ominous and quite unnerving. In the age of Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs and Bardem in No Country for Old Men, this portrayal of screen villains is often overlooked. I challenge anyone to go back and tell me he isn't just as note on creepy as those other two.


Fri Jul 31, 2009 11:11 pm
Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter, The 1955
bob harris wrote:
Let me tell you the story of left hand and right hand.

One of the more disturbing films I have seen in quite some time. Mitchum is just pure evil in this role, nothing less. He is ominous and quite unnerving. In the age of Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs and Bardem in No Country for Old Men, this portrayal of screen villains is often overlooked. I challenge anyone to go back and tell me he isn't just as note on creepy as those other two.


Hi Bob,

I don't think Sirrrr Anthony Hopkins and Javier Bardem come even close to Robert Mitchum.

It may be that kids are the prey.... "Chiiilll... dren! "

Rob


Fri Jul 31, 2009 11:38 pm
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Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter, The 1955
I just saw this movie for the first time, and wow. This film is truly unique.

From the very beginning, you get the feeling that this movie is a beast. The deep, evil-sounding brass set the tone for Mitchum. This is a parable, it analyzes how religion and biblical mythology mix in with our daily lives. It reminds me of reading a Flannery O'Connor story, particularly "Good Country People".

As Mitchum enters the scene in this small town in West Virginia, we see him twist the minds of the gullible town folk. Truly, he is a false prophet and is pure evil. This is one of the most powerful characters in cinema, and one of the best villains. I agree- Anthony Hopkins and Javier Bardem have nothing on Mitchum.

Powell can talk himself into about anything. He makes himself loved and respected by those around him. Yet his motives are pure evil. While this is a big part of why Powell is so memorable, what sets him in a league of his own is how he announces himself. Whenever he comes on screen, he is usually singing a Bible tune or preaching in his hearty baritone voice. And it's creepy as hell.

For most of the movie, it seems as if there is little that the kids can do to get away from Powell. Yet when they find Lillian Gish, the tone changes radically. When Powell meets her character, she sees right through him. She is a representation of the good that the Bible preaches, and she does eventually win over. It's ironic that the same love/hate routine that Powell uses to win over the hearts of those around him is the same story that plays out between him and Mrs. Cooper.

This is some of the best cinematography I have ever seen. It really is beautiful. The shadows, the fog, the light, the sky imagery... There are just so many scenes that show the mastery of the artist behind the camera. When Powell kills his wife, the car in the river, the kids floating in the boat, the barn...

One thing that does annoy me. The awkward 50s singing that was thrown in here and there just detracts from the movie overall. It was especially bad when Pearl is supposed to be singing in the boat, but they have obviously dubbed it over with a much older actress. But overall, this is a relatively small problem.

9/10, maybe 10/10, I'll have to think about it...


Mon Aug 03, 2009 1:13 am
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Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter, The 1955
Robert Holloway wrote:
bob harris wrote:
Let me tell you the story of left hand and right hand.

One of the more disturbing films I have seen in quite some time. Mitchum is just pure evil in this role, nothing less. He is ominous and quite unnerving. In the age of Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs and Bardem in No Country for Old Men, this portrayal of screen villains is often overlooked. I challenge anyone to go back and tell me he isn't just as note on creepy as those other two.


Hi Bob,

I don't think Sirrrr Anthony Hopkins and Javier Bardem come even close to Robert Mitchum.

It may be that kids are the prey.... "Chiiilll... dren! "

Rob


Rob,
You are absolutely right of course. That was my point in bringing up those two characters, simply to illustrate just how evil this guy is to those who have not seen the film and may be more familiar with the modern villains. Hopkins and Bardem have received so much kudos(not unwarrented by the way) for those two roles and more recently, Heath Ledger's Joker also garnered a lot of attention. I was hoping to attract some new viewers to the film in my comparisons with a frame of reference for them. If someone was captivated by their evil ways, they are sure to enjoy and be disturbed by Mitchum.

Bob


Mon Aug 03, 2009 7:55 am
Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter, The 1955
#3 in my journey...

Evil...evil man. Like seriously, this dude is bad. He could give an eff who you are...child, elder, male, female, angel, sinner...he will slice you're throat with a switchblade if he feels the need.

I can just feel his stare...feel it. There is something underneath there. I was constantly wondering, "How can people fall for that crap?" Then again, here I am from the outside looking in, and I would probably fall for the same thing. Hell, I've bought from an infomercial before (only once though).

I have to mention the visuals of the film. Absolutely beautiful. Standout moments for me were the underwater scenes, the silhouette of Mitchum riding the horse while the kids sleep in the barn, the boat ride, and any aerial scene. The play between light and dark, good and evil...are evident throughout. Absolutely entrancing light work here..

Also have to mention, or ask...did Spike Lee lift the Love/Hate dialogue from this film onto Do The Right Thing? I haven't looked anything up on this film, but I'm thinking it's a biblical thing that the filmmakers used for this film that Lee used for his. Trying to connect.


Sat Sep 12, 2009 2:07 am
Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter
I've spent the past few days with this film, watching it twice and reading anything I can find on it. I'd always wanted to see it, and heard great things, but for some reason never got around to watching it. Luckily, my girlfriend had to check out a series of Western film noirs from the library for a paper she's writing for a film class and I happened to see this sitting on the shelf, so I persuaded her to rent it along with the other films. There's SO much to say about this film that I don't really know where to start. This will probably be an incredibly lengthy post, so feel free to check out now.

For starters, Robert Mitchum is the embodiment of evil here. There's a tendency, when talking (or more apporpriately, typing) about film, to swerve into the territory of hyperbole. To say Mitchum ranks as THE single greatest villain in movie history doesn't do his performance justice. Come up with whatever hyperbolic statement you'd like, and realize that Mitchum is better than that here. In what amounts to one of the greatest movies ever made, his performance completely and utterly dominates the film. For the film to work, and not feel corny, overdone, or unintentionally comedic, he has to nail every scene he's in. And he does. He's creepy, horrifying, and oddly charming in what amounts to a performance worthy of all the praise it receives. I could go on and on about Mitchum in this film, but you get it - he's amazing.

The shots, my god, the shots. I can't tell you how many times I was taken aback by the beauty in the composition of individual shots in the film. There are just so many wonderfully rich, textured shots throughout the film. Stanley Cortez, the cinematographer, uses a lot of noir-ish shots with shadows and angles that gives the film a great deal of style. Usually the standard noir style evokes a creepy kind of mood, but, while it still does here, the film also feels very much like a fairytale (or even a dream) in a kind of distorted reality. The film, while based on a true story, isn't supposed to feel real, and it doesn't, thanks in large part to the cinematography.

Now, on to the story of the film and how it relates to film noir. I think the film is playing with the concept of noir in many ways. It's like what Unforgiven did with the Western genre - everything gets turned on it's head. Noir usually takes place in the city, but this is set in the country. There's a distinct domestic feel to the film, which directly opposes how noirs are typically set up. At the same time, the film portrays a world that is evil, cruel, and corrupt which is the norm for a noir. So, the world the film inhabits is both like a noir, and unlike a noir. Adding to this, is the presence of children in the noir. Usually, they are almost never seen, yet here, they are the driving force of the narrative and John can be seen as the hero. Noirs deal a great deal with surviving in a cruel, corrupt world, but the fact that the children are thrust into that situation here is an anomaly. In the world the film creates, children are seen as innocent, which can be seen as the purest form of good. John is heroic because he's trying to maintain Pearl's innocence throughout, even though his innocence has been compromised. By having a young boy drawn slowly into a dark world the film, as opposed to a grown man (the norm), the film achieves a kind of poignancy that it otherwise wouldn't have.

Secondly, Mitchum's character, Harry Powell, functions similar to how the femme fatale would in a classic noir film. He uses his charm and sex appeal to get what he wants. At the same time, while he is murdering his victims for financial gain, he's also a psychopath how honestly believes he's killing these women because they are sinners. He sees a sexual being as a sinner. So, while he functions like the femme fatale (by using sex as a weapon), he also contradicts the archtype by faulting, and killing, those who are sexual and not embracing that sexuality. Another layer to this concept is the depiction of women in the film as sexually repressed. That, again, is not standard in the noir, as the woman typically uses her sexuality to her advantage.

The film uses the theme of misused religion similar to how a noir film would use the theme of law and justice being corrupt and untrustworthy. In noirs the law is met with skepticism, and while Uncle Bernie doesn't trust the police here, that theme is largely absent. Instead, it is the church/religion that can be seen as untrustworthy here. Powell is obviously the ultimate symbol of corrupt religion, and he's contrasted with the character of Mother Cooper (which is wonderfully done with the Love/Hate tatoos and the singing scene between the 2). The townspeople initially buy into Powell's preaching rhetoric, but by the end they are ready to lynch him. There's also the amazing scene where Powell initially meets Mother Cooper and tries to pass as the children's father. He begins his preaching sermon to try and sway Mother Cooper, and while it was almost believeable at the beginning of the film, it rings incredibly hollow here. It's a fantastic way to contrast these two opposing characters and to bring out the theme of misused religion.

Even the visual style of the film contains this twisting of the noir genre. While the same kind of lighting that stemmed from the German Expressionist movement is used here, it doesn't set the same mood as it normally would. Noirs typically have a paranoid, skeptical feel. For good reason, the characters don't trust the world in which they live, and the visual style reflects that. The Night of the Hunter uses standard noir techniques to create an eeire, creepy, scary movie. The techniques are basically used to create a horror movie. I realize German Expressionism in film began with horror movies, but it's most known for it's use in noir.

So, I'd call the film a revisionist noir film. What does all this mean? What's the film trying to say? Well, I certainly think it's condemning Bible-belt America's practice of blindly following religion, by condemning this "world" and the "adults" who inhabit it. Mother Cooper is the true religious beacon, and moral compass, of the film, and she seems to live a somewhat secluded life, separate from the "world". This allows her to take children in and protect them from the corrupt, evil "world". Other than that, well, I'm not completely sure. I certainly intend to find out by rewathcing this movie about 50 more times. There's just so much going on in this movie, and so many things to think about, that you just can't help but to be exicted about seeing it again and again. If you've actually read this entire post, thanks. I sincerely mean that, because sometimes it can be difficult to read someone else's long (and possibly rambling) posts.


Thu Dec 17, 2009 11:17 am
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Post Re: What's the best movie you saw in 2009?
I thought the third act completely belied the amazing first two...one of those movies that left me sad afterwards because I had wanted to like it as much as everyone else but couldn't

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Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:22 am
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Post Re: What's the best movie you saw in 2009?
JamesKunz wrote:
I thought the third act completely belied the amazing first two...one of those movies that left me sad afterwards because I had wanted to like it as much as everyone else but couldn't


I considered The Night of the Hunter to be an American Gothic faerietale and didn't think the third act was out of place for a faerietale of sorts. I also thought the unassuming and good-at-heart lady was a nice contrast to the outwardly pious but rotten-to-the-core preacher. There's probably some statement in there about religion (practice vs. preaching), but I'd need to rewatch the film to make a statement about this.


Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:01 pm
Post Re: What's the best movie you saw in 2009?
Unke wrote:
JamesKunz wrote:
I thought the third act completely belied the amazing first two...one of those movies that left me sad afterwards because I had wanted to like it as much as everyone else but couldn't


I considered The Night of the Hunter to be an American Gothic faerietale and didn't think the third act was out of place for a faerietale of sorts. I also thought the unassuming and good-at-heart lady was a nice contrast to the outwardly pious but rotten-to-the-core preacher. There's probably some statement in there about religion (practice vs. preaching), but I'd need to rewatch the film to make a statement about this.


I agree. I felt the film had a fairytale or dreamlike quality, and thought the third act fit quite appropriately. I don't see how it betrayed the first two acts, but, of course, would love to hear why.


Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:14 pm
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Post Re: What's the best movie you saw in 2009?
Because the first 2 acts have an unbelievably dark tone. Every character in them, aside from the children (and that's up for debate) is either evil, criminal, or weak. This is a dark, scary world for the children, highlighted by that incredible shot of Mitchum chasing them where he appears otherworldly. And then...they wander into the hokey world you see showcased on some of the weaker episodes of the Twilight Zone. All of the tension and misanthropy falls from the film as they're welcomed into the warm embrace of Lillian Gish and her folksy charm. I see what you guys are saying, but it reminded me of 2000's The Contender, which similarly set up a world of avarice and evil only to strip it away for the crowd-pleasing 3rd act.

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Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:46 pm
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Post Re: What's the best movie you saw in 2009?
I'm with both those who say the film is a fable as well as those, or he, who believes the third act fits poorly with the rest.

I had a brief exchange with darthyoshi after seeing the film in order to make sense of what I believed to be one of the strangest films I'd ever seen. The complete tonal shift from nightmare to perverse version of "Our Town" was so jarring as to make the film completely crumble before ending on a truly fableish note. I think a case might be made on how it's all of the same cloth but, as an experience, the movie ceased being completely involving when Mitchum took off from the main story.

Of course, part of this is that my expectations for what the story would be just weren't met. But, all the same, the movie stands as an odd assemblage of good ideas and ideas that just don't fit the trail blazed by the opening notes. In other words, just as soon as the kids got away I knew the rest of the movie was going to go down real easy-like. It stopped working for me. My guess is a second viewing will put the tones into the appropriate nightmare-feel both Unke and Pete saw the first time around. Also... Rob! Rob, like a b-12 injection into the forum.

Anyhow, as it stands, Night of the Hunter is a bit too screwball pastiche for me to champion. Interesting movie but hardly perfect enough given the legendary status it enjoys.


Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:52 pm
Post Re: What's the best movie you saw in 2009?
Damned it to hell, Kunz. Damn your slightly earlier submission. My thunder... gone.


Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:54 pm
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Post Re: What's the best movie you saw in 2009?
majoraphasia wrote:
Damned it to hell, Kunz. Damn your slightly earlier submission. My thunder... gone.


Hahahaha sorry man, but I'm just glad someone's on my side here

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Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:00 pm
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Post Re: What's the best movie you saw in 2009?
JamesKunz wrote:
Because the first 2 acts have an unbelievably dark tone. Every character in them, aside from the children (and that's up for debate) is either evil, criminal, or weak. This is a dark, scary world for the children, highlighted by that incredible shot of Mitchum chasing them where he appears otherworldly. And then...they wander into the hokey world you see showcased on some of the weaker episodes of the Twilight Zone. All of the tension and misanthropy falls from the film as they're welcomed into the warm embrace of Lillian Gish and her folksy charm. I see what you guys are saying, but it reminded me of 2000's The Contender, which similarly set up a world of avarice and evil only to strip it away for the crowd-pleasing 3rd act.


Hmmm. I have to disagree. Gish's world may not be dark, but if it was as dark as the rest of the world, what would draw the children there? That's part of the contrast within the film. I think it's absolutely necessary for there to be some kind of good in the world for the film to work.

In this "hokey world" they enter, Powell is trying to kill them, Gish quotes scripture while marching back and forth with a shotgun, there's the incredibly powerful singing scene, and Gish even shoots Mitchum in front of the children. Sure, Gish's residence is a safe haven for the children (which, again, is necessary for the film), but to call it hokey is hyperbole in my opinion.

The evil world set up in the first 2 acts is still very much present at the end of the film. The trial scene and scenes with the mob that follow serve to show this. The world in the film doesn't change, the children are just safe with Gish.


Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:09 pm
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Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter
I respect the points you're making and I can see what you're seeing, if you follow, without seeing it myself. I don't mind there being light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, but found the movie far more riveting when it focused on the darkness. Are you familiar with the two endings of Neil Marshall's The Descent?

[Reveal] Spoiler:
In the original ending, everyone died in the cave. In the edited-for-dumb-Americans ending, one character suddenly saw light and made her way out of the cave and lived.


To me, that's what Night of the Hunter was--that second ending where lightness came into a story that was better suited without it. And at least the Descent didn't involve folksy old women who, when they're not fighting off evil incarnate, are busy warning pretty girls away from the grabby boys and other Earth-mother-type duties.

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Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:30 pm
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Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter
JamesKunz wrote:
I respect the points you're making and I can see what you're seeing, if you follow, without seeing it myself. I don't mind there being light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, but found the movie far more riveting when it focused on the darkness. Are you familiar with the two endings of Neil Marshall's The Descent?

[Reveal] Spoiler:
In the original ending, everyone died in the cave. In the edited-for-dumb-Americans ending, one character suddenly saw light and made her way out of the cave and lived.


To me, that's what Night of the Hunter was--that second ending where lightness came into a story that was better suited without it. And at least the Descent didn't involve folksy old women who, when they're not fighting off evil incarnate, are busy warning pretty girls away from the grabby boys and other Earth-mother-type duties.


I'm sorry, but I don't really follow your point. If you truly don't mind there being light at the end of the tunnel, then what about the lightness is the problem? If it's as simple as you feel it's corny, then fine, I can accept that. I don't agree, and feel like I've provided quite a few examples to the contrary, but you are certainly entitled to feel that way.


Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:54 pm
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Post Re: 37 Night of the Hunter
Yeah I don't think I made my point terribly clearly last time. To recapitulate:

-I don't mind the concept of happy endings, but they have to be consistent with the rest of the story and I feel that Night of the Hunter's wasn't.
-The primary reason that I feel it wasn't is because the third act came off as warm and hokey, in sharp contrast to the dark and evil tone carefully cultivated in the first 2 acts
-I feel that the overwhelming critical adoration of the film stems largely from the romantic story that it was Charles Laughton's only film as a director, panned at the time, only appreciated after his death, etc and people ignore its problems

Now, Mr. Pete, you haven't ignored my points but have provided counter points about why you don't find the ending hokey. However, while I disagree with none of what you say, I think you're missing the forest for the trees, so to speak. Who cares that Gish has a shotgun? I've seen plenty of comedies with guns--it's the tone that bugs me about the third act, not the details. Yes Powell is still trying to kill them, but he's no longer this larger-than-life evil force. Now he's just a man overwhelmed by the forces of GOOD and it's only a matter of time before he loses.

And as for hokey being hyperbole...oh no I don't think so. To quote Wikipedia: "The film ends with Rachel speaking directly to camera that "Children are man at his strongest. They abide." Ugh

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Thu Jan 21, 2010 4:23 pm
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