The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

DVD Cover (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
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Overall Rating 80%
Overall Rating
Ranked #1,135
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Robert Mitchum
Robert Mitchum
Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters
Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish
James Gleason
James Gleason
Evelyn Varden
Evelyn Varden
Review by Ginose
Added: December 20, 2009
Ever seen a movie that is supposedly one of the milestones of your favorite genre, as well as one so important that it was accepted into the National Film Registry until 50 years after its release? It's embarrassing, trust me, but having only seen bits and pieces of "Night of the Hunter" throughout various TV showings over the years, I never gave it much time, no matter how much I loved Robert Mitchum in EVERYTHING I saw him in prior to 1960, I just never gave this one the time of day... until my lovely lady finally gave me the opportunity, reflecting on how much she once enjoyed it, so we both decided to give it a watch: Holy shit.

I couldn't believe I'd put off watching this classic for so long! Being an avid fan of these classic thrillers, I couldn't understand how a movie as influential on the genre as a whole had escaped my viewing for so long and I'm still in a bit of awe.

As it starts, a wandering preacher is making his way to a house of sin to observe those "evil, lacey" things that he and his God are so keen on him removing from the world, where he is caught and taken to prison for a stolen car he was driving. This is, incidentally, the same time a man, struggling in this age of depression, robs a bank, killing two people and leaving the money with his son and daughter, the only two he feels have enough wits to keep it safe. The two arrested men end up sharing a cell in which the preacher over-hears the father speaking in his sleep with a cryptic quote of scripture, telling, more or less, where he'd hidden the stolen $10,000. Well, as these things often go, the father is hung and the preacher makes his way into the nearby town, slowly making his way into the daily lives of the inhabitants and, slowly but surely, making his into the life of a recently widowed mother of two.

A film that's designed to stand the test of time normally doesn't feel like this, it works on all kinds of levels, functioning on both the traditional grounds of the thriller that the book was in the beginning and the dramatic coming-of-age story of all the younger cast (including, but not limited to, the hastily added plot-point characters in the second to last act).

Fucking wonderful performances, as well, from nearly everybody on call; Mitchum is as best as he's ever been, both ridiculously creepy, amusing and intense at any given moment, dropping moods in and out off and on all the way through, oh, and the ending, truly pinning his character down in ways I wouldn't have imagined possible from someone of his... eh... noted talents. Not to mention the whole plethora of talent backing him throughout.

The visual style of this film is arresting, as well, the hardened, static views of haunting sunsets and the long moonlit river ride against the long, stretch of the children's pained voyage... and can anything stick to your mind better than watching Mitchum's ride against the sunset?

One of the most fantastically original tales I've ever seen committed to film and I can only hope it goes on being remembered as such, as deeply disturbing and impacting as anything you're liable to see in quite some time, with one of the most terrifyingly real and horrible villains to be filmed in such an entrancingly evil state of mind all throughout, show casing just how easily a snake can be in the garden of life that people find themselves so comfortable in.

Truthfully, the whole film lies on Mitchum's performance, though the strong writing and characterizations given to the players is also well supported, and not just by him, but by every piece working in the cogs of this celluloid work... fuck, I hate that I love this movie so much, in certain ways, because it's not a perfect film, by any means.

It's much too short, first and foremost, having no exposure to the story, prior to this movie, certainly doesn't help. A lot of the alleged "fleshing-out" of the characters towards the end of the film doesn't even seem to make sense with such a rushed assembly of the end of the movie, and most of the story feels like it was mangled to bring to down to average theatrical length (for the time) and, given the biggest part of the film as a whole, second to Mitchum, is the wonderful plot therein, and it feels garbled as fuck in the second half of the movie. A damn shame, but I still feel all kinds of love for it, the flaws just oozing away with each track back over the scenes that make the film what it is... also, the ending sucks in the context the movie puts it in. Big time. Damn...

This is a fantastic movie. Seriously. If you haven't seen it, see it, it's damned near a perfect film. So close, if you can ignore the qualms of the actual industry, at the time, and accept it as a film within itself rather than an adaptation.

Greg Follender #1: Greg Follender - added 12/20/2009, 12:46 AM
I dunno... I didn't have as many problems with the narrative and character development as you did with this film... any quirky pacing I chalked up to the industry standard at the time...

I do, however, COMPLETELY agree with your final assessment of the film. It is a brilliant piece of work... for it's time especially. It has aged remarkably well to boot... few films have this much emotional clout so many years after their initial release.

There's not much more for me to say that wasn't already well-covered here.
All in all, an excellent review of a classic film. I also give the film a firm 9/10 score.
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