THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
Directed by Charles Laughton
Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish
Approx. 92 min. 35mm.
"Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms" sing both shotgun-toting child protector Lillian Gish and lurking psycho preacher Robert Mitchum, who sports a pocket switchblade, as well as fingers tattooed "Love" and "Hate." (Director Laughton told him "this character I want you to play is a diabolical shit." Mitchum: "Present.") Fairy tale and nightmare combine as Shelley Winters' orphans Sally Bruce and Billy Chapin odyssey through the American heartland, in this spellbinding folk tale adapted from the Davis Grub novel by legendary critic and scenarist (THE AFRICAN QUEEN) James Agee (though Laughton purportedly completely rewrote his 350-page draft). Laughton's sole directorial effort is a hypnotic tribute to the visuals of D.W. Griffith, with memorable images including a startling A-frame ceiling above a timorous victim (underscored by Sibelius' valse triste); the undulations of an underwater corpse's hair; and the children's nightmarish downriver trip; all stunningly photographed b cinematographer Stanley Cortez, who considered it one of the two most exciting experiences of his long career (the other was Welles' THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS).
"Laughton’s gallery of great performances aside, the crowning achievement of his film career may have been a movie in which he did not appear. That would be THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, the only film he directed, and one so good it is one of cinema’s true losses that its financial failure prevented him from ever directing another. It was as if Laughton took everything he’d learned from his work — but more importantly life itself — to play on the audience’s feelings, keeping us at once rapt and enthralled, as if we were all children again, completely transfixed by the most compelling bedtime story.”
– David Noh, Gay City News
“Haunting and highly personal... clearly the work of a master.”
– The New York Times
“Bizarre, frightening and amazing”
– Robert Gitt, The Guardian
“Among the greatest horror movies ever made”
– Terrence Rafferty