This mid-1950s expressionist gem is fresh off the memory, having watched it for the first time last evening at the house of the sister (Joy) of one MM Lyle. Joy happens to have a pretty good in depth knowledge of old school horror films and literature, and this film fitting in well with that.
The Night Of The Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton) stars Robert Mitchum as the main antagonist, a con-man and murderer using the role of a preacher as a guise to carry out his dirty deeds of killing lonely ladies and then trying to extort whatever savings they might have laying around for his benefit.
Apparently this is based loosely on the true story of Harry Powers, a murderer convicted in the 1930s of doing somewhat the same thing.
Also recognisable is actress Shelley Winters, who played the role of mother in the original Lolita by Kubrick, as well as Lillian Gish, the classic silent era film star in a later career role.
Rather than spoiling the plot, as that would give away the film — a film you should watch if you come across it, there’s elements in the mood and set design that still linger evening in the morning of this sunny Thursday. The sets are very expressionist, still carrying on the film noir trend of the decade before, and even more European expressionist flourishes like exagerrated shadows, silhouettes and background sets, which seem to make the buildings look more crooked and ominous than they seem.
Other particularly striking scenes include the discovery of the children’s mother by the old fisherman, her body white and ghostly, tied down into the drown automobile in sort of a peaceful dream-like state as the weeds of the riverbed weave gracefully around her.
Mitchum’s character himself is full of strange quirks, almost a strange extreme parody of the preacher stereotype, with the words LOVE and then HATE tattooed across opposing sets of knuckles. His tendency to snap from a mannered yet stern man into an on-edge, howling psychopath adds a very unnerving edge to his character, one that you can see emulated in some of the bizarre characters that would populate David Lynch’s films decades later.
Probably one of the more standout scenes sees the two child protagonists drifting down the river by boat as random groups of animals view them from nearby on the riverbank, giving the scene almost a CS Lewis type feeling. The younger sister sings a peaceful song against slightly ominous strings. I can see how this film was one of influence for aspiring directors in later years. You can view that scene below, as well as other stills from the film: