Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter – Charles Laughton – Draped in film noir shadows and featuring an unnerving performance from the villainous preacher Robert Mitchum, it’s not hard to see why the American Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.  often considered a classic. A man of the Church, driven to kill by a lust for money and a natural ability to deceive, Robert Mitchum’s character displays a sinister charisma in a role that (when the film was released) would have carried far more shock than it does now. However, half way through the film, its near gothic creepiness suffers a drastic shift in tone; a noble pillar of maternity and Christianity is provided to balance the aberration of Mitchum’s bad preacher and, with much heavy handed moralizing, this annoying mother goose character re establishes the worth of Christian values. It feels like a discordant conclusion grafted onto an eerie and chilling film. The latter half of the film nervously attempts to reaffirm Christianity with a didactic air of propaganda, propaganda that the first half of the film had ironically so powerfully undermined. The artistic equivalent of making a genuinely interesting statement, only to verbally reverse for fear of seeming a tad too subversive. This more commercial softening of the first half’s singular vision, in which it all goes a bit Sound of Music with happy children being happily welcomed into a happy foster home, unfortunately undoes the unsettling and superior first half. However, it can’t be denied that the film produces a genuinely arresting and sublimely unsettling sequence involving the dead mother: seated in her drowned car at the bottom of the lake (with what is disturbingly referred to as a ‘second smile’ in her neck), her hair waving in ghostly streams, only to be later rowed over by her fleeing children – unaware that they are floating on the watery tomb of their mother. An iconic and serenely haunting sequence. 7.5/10

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