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The Night of the Hunter (Criterion) (1955)

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, more...
Director: Charles Laughton, Charles Laughton
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Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Criterion
Genre: Classics, Classic Drama, Classic Horror, Criterion Collection
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, French
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The Night of the Hunter (Criterion) (1955)
Adapted by James Agee from a novel by Davis Grubb, The Night of the Hunter represented legendary actor Charles Laughton's only film directing effort. Combining stark realism with Germanic expressionism, the movie is a brilliant good-and-evil parable, with "good" represented by a couple of farm kids and a pious old lady, and "evil" literally in the hands of a posturing psychopath. Imprisoned with thief Ben Harper (Peter Graves), phony preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) learns that Ben has hidden a huge sum of money somewhere near his home. Upon his release, the murderously misogynistic Powell insinuates himself into Ben's home, eventually marrying his widow Willa (Shelley Winters). Eventually all that stands between Powell and the money are Ben's son (Billy Chapin) and daughter (Sally Jane Bruce), who take refuge in a home for abandoned children presided over by the indomitable, scripture-quoting Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish). The war of wills between Mitchum and Gish is the heart of the film's final third, a masterful blend of horror and lyricism. Laughton's tight, disciplined direction is superb -- and all the more impressive when one realizes that he intensely disliked all child actors. The music by Walter Schumann and the cinematography of Stanley Cortez are every bit as brilliant as the contributions by Laughton and Agee. Overlooked on its first release, The Night of the Hunter is now regarded as a classic. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

The Night of the Hunter (Criterion) (Bonus Disc) (1955)
  • Audio commentary featuring second-unit director Terry Sanders, film critic F. X. Feeney, archivist Robert Gitt, and author Preston Neal Jones
  • Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter, a two-and-a-half-hour treasure trove of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage
  • New documentary featuring interviews with producer Paul Gregory, Sanders, Feeney, Jones, and author Jeffrey Couchman
  • New video interview with Laughton biographer Simon Callow
  • Clip from the The Ed Sullivan Show in which cast members perform a scene deleted from the film
  • Fifteen-minute episode of the BBC show Moving Pictures about the film
  • Archival interview with cinematographer Stanley Cortez
  • Gallery of sketches by author Davis Grubb, author of the source novel
  • New video conversation between Gitt and film critic Leonard Maltin about Charles Laughton Directs
  • Original theatrical trailer

GreenCine Member Ratings

The Night of the Hunter (Criterion) (1955)
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8.17 (429 votes)
The Night of the Hunter (Criterion) (Bonus Disc) (1955)
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8.40 (5 votes)

GreenCine Member Reviews

Magical and terrifying. by AMacEwen5 July 21, 2013 - 9:44 AM PDT
This is a terrifying, magical and lyrical film. The viewer who claims Cape Fear is the better film must have his intellect questioned, as that movie is merely an above-average thriller from a director who was mostly a hack. It simply cannot hold a candle to Laughton's masterpiece. And you can utterly ignore that incoherent jumble of ignorance from rjones3. The customers on this site are hopelessly in the dark, and proof that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The Critic's Lot Is Not a Happy One by RJones3 August 14, 2008 - 10:23 PM PDT
0 out of 3 members found this review helpful
I was searching through my mental collection of sardonic phrases for the purpose of demolishing this offering when it occurred to me that this was one of Roger Ebert's Great Movies. What a humiliating lot is that of the amateur critic! I had thought this movie as musty as a Currier and Ives Christmas card, with a prominent role for none other than Lillian Gish and an iris shot at one point of the children cowering in a basement. Other movies from the mid-1950s, says Ebert, seem dated by comparison. Really? Apparently the movie is trying to be neither up-to-date nor old-fashioned, but in some inscrutably tongue-in-cheek manner, expressionistic. The critics as well as the public missed the point at the time of the movie's release, and so half a century later did I. We may all be forgiven for failing to put things in proper perspective. Perhaps the best way to approach this movie is through the eyes of a famous but aging actor who has one shot at being a director, who must deal with child actors whom he cannot stand and an alcoholic screenwriter whom he does not respect, and of course the expectations of an audience who know what they like.

Good but not so much as Cape Fear by lokust January 12, 2007 - 10:46 AM PST
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful
Great to finally see this movie after hearing about it for years. It's not quite as good as its reputation, but this is down mainly to Mitchum's ability to outshine everyone else in the movie.

Laughton does a good job of suggesting a connection between misogyny, (Southern) religious radicalism and violence-- the film starts with Mitchum as the crazed preacher at a strip show, fascinated and repulsed at the same time. Later, in a scene that is quite ahead of its time for the 50's, he condemns his new wife's desire to be slept with on their wedding night and equates sex with sin. Mitchum's Preacher is accepted with open arms by the conservative town he's moved into all while his new wife has obviously been brainwashed into a religious frenzy so thoroughly that she can't see the terror he is inflicting on her son.

It's actually pretty hard to believe that 50's audiences could swallow this movie as it hints at child molestation (like Cape Fear, another Mitchum-fueled movie) so obviously; also the young boys who hang out near the drugstore in the 30's South were quite a surprise, paying their lewd attention to the girls passing by.

Despite some above average acting from the child actors and a wonderful performance by Mitchum, it remains his show for the most part, whereas Cape Fear is a bit more rounded and definitely the better movie overall.

The version I got from Greencine was also unfortunately a pan-and-scan version; surely there's a widescreen lurking out there somewhere?

More reviews for titles in this product:

The Most Dangerous Game
People hunting people... with a sense of fun!
Jonathan Rosenbaum's Alternative List to the AFI's
From Rosenbaum's 1998 article in the Chicago Reader: List-o-mania, Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love American Movies (Films were listed alphabetically only.)

see all lists

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