43. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
This was Charles Laughton‘s only film as a director which is unfortunate, because it’s a hell of a debut. I think the film’s commercial failure had a lot to do with him never directing another film. And of course his flourishing career as one of the great actors of his lifetime.
This is an atmospheric, creepy, suspenseful, yet beautiful film. Robert Mitchum brings the awesome as a creepy and God-fearing murderer, the child actors are among the best I have ever seen, and Shelley Winters gets killed, so it’s a win on 3 fronts. I don’t really get Shelley Winters, she’s pretty annoying, and I find her homely, which in an of itself means nothing, but she was a really big star in the 50’s, and I just don’t get her popularity.
There’s definitely something disturbing about a man singing hymns while stalking 2 small kids through the wilderness. I can’t think of anyone other than Mitchum being able to do it without it going over the top. Imagine Johnny Cash stalking kids in the wilderness and you have Mitchum’s portrayal in the film. His voice is so warm, and he’s got a down-home accent, and yet he’s just a complete sicko.
I think the film works because of the contrasts: the beautiful camera work enhances the creepiness of the film. Mitchum’s religiousity enhances the terrifying aspect of his character, while the calm warmth of his voice enhances the horrible things he’s saying. Mitchum even has love and hate tattooed on his hands, further suggesting the contrast.
This is the scene that blew my mind originally because it was simply unexpected, and incredibly unusual to see in a 1950’s Hollywood film:
Everything about the film just stands out and I can’t think of another film that is similar.
I just wish the poster was a little nicer.
On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 9/10. Just fascinating and compelling through and through.