Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Night of the Hunter (1955) - ★★★★★

Director: Charles Laughton
Writers: Davis Grubb (novel), James Agee (screenplay)
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish, Shelley Winters, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce

This is one of the greatest movies of all time. I can't remember the last time I've seen a nailbiting film like Night of the Hunter. All I can say is that this is a thriller that rivals any of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces, for the acting, story, cinematography and memorable dialogue are absolutely outstanding.

John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl Harper's lives are turned upside down when their father was arrested for stealing $10,000. They are the only people who know what he did with the money. A man sharing a prison cell with the father, Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), learns that the money is hidden somewhere and hatches a scheme to get it after the father is hung. He is a sadistic man with a history of crime who will do anything to get that money, even kill.

This is easily Robert Mitchum's greatest performance. I haven't seen a psycopath played this well since Anthony Perkin's in "Psycho." I will never in my life forget the monologue he uses to explain why he has the words 'love' and 'hate' tattooed on his left and right hand. "Yesiree! It's love that won! And old left hand hate is down for the count!" Somewhere in his gentle facade, you could catch glimpses of something evil behind his expression and eyes, which is a sure sign of magnificent acting.

Another perfect performance came from a star of the silent-era, the outstanding Lillian Gish. She played a woman who took in the two children and fought off the psychopathic Harry. There were some screws loose in her head too, but you could see that she was a kind-hearted woman. When Gish and Mitchum battled it out in some of the closing scenes, it was positively enthralling. In my opinion, both of them should have received the Oscars that year.

I cannot leave out praise for Billy Chapin, who played John, one of the most admirable and strongest children in movie history. He was intelligent, caring, and above all, the toughest character in the movie. Shelley Winters was also very good as the mother who gets taken in by the nice facade of Harry Powell. Her performance was powerful in its own right, showing vulnerability and madness in several scenes.

The cinematography throughout this film is some of the best I've seen in movies. I am apalled that Night of the Hunter is not as well known as a film such as Casablanca. Charles Laughton did an absolutely marvellous job piecing the film together. Some of the scenes in the film were extremely beautiful, such as the many scenes of the two children floating up the river in the boat. The music, particularly the psalms sung, were extremely haunting. In Harry Powell's mind, all of his actions were rationalized and right in the eyes of God, which shows how sometimes religion can be a very dangerous thing.

Almost everything about this movie is perfect. It is a classic gem that has been overlooked for many years. It has only recently been appreciated for the masterpiece that it is. If you're a fan of thrillers, this is the movie for you.

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