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THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
1955 - Charles Laughton
United States
8
Opening Shot

The title cards are are shown with the haunting musical score and a starlight background. As the title continue we hear children singing "Dream little one dream.." After the titles the image of a gentle older woman (Lillian Gish) appears among the starlight night. "Now you remember children how I told you you last Sunday night about the good Lord going up into the mountain and talking to the people..." (images of the faces of the young children listening to her appear among the stars. She concludes, "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits." As she is saying this shots from above a small town appear and then the camera peaks down and moves toward a group of young children playing in the yard.

The Film

"Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil?" Night of the Hunter is a film that leaves me speechless. The breathtaking images and emotions captured within the film is truly indescribable and among the most incredible in cinema. Night of the Hunter is a film that is so artistic, and so timeless, and so rare, and oh so astounding. Any image or frame of the film looks like nothing else ever made. This is truly a rare and unique film, specifically visually with it's stunning black and white composed images, lighting, and shadows. Much of it recalls the imagery of German expressionism of the silent era, and with the legendary Lillian Gish starring, it's also pretty easy to think of D.W. Griffith. But make no mistake, The Night of the Hunter is an artistic masterpiece of it's own and incomparable to any other film. This was the first and only film Charles Laughton ever directed (as he was primarily an actor). Robert Mitchum has never been better or more memorable then he is here as the evil "preacher" who's greed puts him in pursuit of two young children. The cinematography is the work of absolute perfection and beauty in defining the films dark and haunting atmosphere. Night of the Hunter is just so perfect. I love it! The endless layers and depth, the visual and emotional atmosphere, the stylistic power and mystery, and the haunting beauty is such a captivating experience. Ultimately Night of the Hunter is a symbolic film of greed and human nature that is both haunting and suspenseful, and above all atmospheric and dreamlike. This film represents all that is wonderful about cinema as an art form. Night of the Hunter is one of the very greatest achievements in film history. "They abide, and they endure."

The Filmmaker

Charles Laughton is mostly known for his great acting ability (starting on the British stage). He's been nominated for three Academy Awards, winning for 1933's The Private Life of Henry VIII. While on the stage, Laughton also had some background in directing and he eventually took this into film - by directing The Night of the Hunter in 1955. Because the film was a critical and commercial failure, Laughton vowed to never direct a film again. The Night of the Hunter was ahead of it's time, as the masterpiece has since become to be considered a classic. Unfortunately Laughton never did make another film (it is said that while making The Night of the Hunter he had plans to direct the screen adaptation of "The Naked and the Dead"). You wonder what other great works could have been made under Laughton's vision.

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Resources
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