Friday, April 15, 2011

Links: Night of the Hunter

Bosley Crowther liked Night of the Hunter well enough back in September of 1955, though he had issues with the second half.  Writing in the New York Times, he said:

"All this has been crisply compacted into clear screen drama by the late James Agee and it is put forth under the direction of Mr. Laughton in stark, rigid visual terms. The locale is crushingly rural, the atmosphere of "the sticks" is intense, and Robert Mitchum plays the murderous minister with an icy unctuousness that gives you the chills. There is more than malevolence and menace in his character. There is a strong trace of Freudian aberration, fanaticism and iniquity. . . .

"But unfortunately the story and the thesis presented by Mr. Grubb had to be carried through by Mr. Laughton to a finish—and it is here that he goes wrong. For the evolution of the melodrama, after the threatened, frightened children flee home, angles off into that allegorical contrast of the forces of Evil and Good. Strange, misty scenes composed of shadows and unrealistic silhouettes suggest the transition to abstraction."

But Dave Kehr in the Chicago Reader finds that abstraction to be one of the film's great strengths:

"Laughton's direction has Germanic overtones—not only in the expressionism that occasionally grips the image, but also in a pervasive, brooding romanticism that suggests the Erl-King of Goethe and Schubert. But ultimately the source of its style and power is mysterious—it is a film without precedents, and without any real equals."

Michael Atkinson takes Kehr's side, writing in the Village Voice that:

"Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter is the movie freak's definitive love machine: maligned when first released in 1955, hopelessly out of synch with American postwar sensibilities, so aberrant and singular it may properly be called the first Hollywood cult movie. An arch, Kabuki-like morality play set in a Saturday Evening Post mid-country and populated by shrieking archetypes, the film was, famously, Laughton's only directorial effort, and the mind boggles to ponder what kind of auteur career the man might've had come the '60s. As it is, Hunter is a paroxysm of stylistic excess, so untempered by reality or taste that even its stiff-limbed child performances feel like bad dreams."

Finally, just a month ago, Night of the Hunter was current Times critic A. O. Scott's Critics' Pick of the week:

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