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Directed by
Charles Laughton
93 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Night Of The Hunter

Appropriately, given his acting career, Laughton’s sole directorial effort is, to say the least, eccentric, if not downright bizarre and deserves to be seen for this reason, if nothing else.

A Mark Twainish story (the screenplay is by James Agee from a 1953 novel by Davis Grubb) set on the Ohio River it concerns the evil doings of a self-styled preacher-cum-serial killer (Robert Mitchum, at his menacing best) and a couple of young children fleeing him. Dramatically the film is way-out-of-kilter but that hardly appears to be Laughton’s concern, which seems to be a rather adult fairytale (it drips with psycho-sexual Biblical repression) pictured through children’s eye’s. The result is a mixture of non-naturalistic techniques that are reminiscent of Eisenstein and German Expressionist silent cinema wrapped up in a mid-50s Americana.

Sometimes chilling, sometimes almost farcical, not surprisingly, it was a critical and commercial flop when released. It has found staunch supporters in recent years, praise going particularly to Mitchum’s psychotically-charming killer, a character who has become a staple of American film (Mitchum played a similar character as Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962). If eccentricity doesn't do it for you, what will impress is Stanley Cortez’s terrific black and white cinematography and Walter Schumann’s evocative score.




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