July 26, 2017

The Night of the Hunter & Robert Mitchum

Today, July 26, 1955, the film, The Night of the Hunter, premiered and for the first time I realized what a great actor Robert Mitchum was. 

I will never forget the first time I saw The Night of the Hunter. I had just turned 15 and up to that point my entire movie experience was Sci-Fi, westerns, gangsters, The Three Stooges and comedies. I was shocked by its theme of psychologically-disturbed personalities. I don't believe there had been a film like this before. 

The Night of the Hunter movie poster

The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American film noir directed by Charles Laughton; it was the only film he ever directed (link below). It stared Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin, Gloria Castillo and Sally Jane Bruce. The screenplay by James Agee was based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb. The plot focuses on a corrupt reverend-turned-serial killer who attempts to charm an unsuspecting widow and steal $10,000 hidden by her executed husband.

There was nothing creepier than Robert Mitchum singing the spiritual, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, nor the unearthly scream he utters in the river boat scene (links below). It makes my skin raise up in goose bumps.      

The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers, hanged in 1932 for the murder of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The film's lyrical and expressionistic style with its leaning on the silent era sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, and it has influenced later directors such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers.      

An illustration of the unorthodox lighting in The Night of the Hunter (1955) remniscent of German Expressionist cinema. Note the placement of the key light (main light) off the protagonist, played by Lillian Gish, to illuminate the villain Robert Mitchum. This lighting arrangement plays off the conventional association of light with good and darkness with evil. 

The scene of Shelley Winters dead in the car submerged in the river with her hair floating around her face while the music is a beautiful, gentle and dreamy watlz is one of the most terrifying scenes of all time.   

The film was scored by Walter Schumann, (October 8, 1913 – August 21, 1958) who was an American composer for film, television, and the theater. His notable works include the Dragnet Theme. His themes for the film are dead on target: the song, Once Upon a Time There Was a Pretty Fly and Hush, Little One, Hush, sung by Kitty White, are hauntingly beautiful. Both are exquisite counter points to the creepy, sinister score.   

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The influential film magazine Cahiers du cinéma selected The Night of the Hunter in 2008 as the second-best film of all time, behind Citizen Kane.   

Lillian Gish, Shelley Winters and Charles Laughton
before filming "Night of the Hunter"

Charles Laughton directing Billy Chapin
watched by Peter Graves 
The Night of the Hunter, 1955 
promo shot

Viewfinder links:   
Charles Laughton reads The Night of the Hunter         
Robert Mitchum      
Net links:     
The Night of the Hunter Cast & Crew
Slate.com ~ The Greatest One-Off in Movie History  
Filmsite review       
The Guardian ~ My Favorite Film             
The Telegraph ~  a masterpiece of American cinema             
A.V. Club ~  Charles Laughton’s first, and only, directorial masterpiece 
Turner Classics review      
YouTube links:                   
The Night of the Hunter (trailer)           
Robert Mitchum - Leaning on the Everlasting Arms   
River Boat Scene          
Once Upon a Time There Was a Pretty Fly     
Hush, Little One, Hush         
Original cast and crew talks about The Night of the Hunter
Charles Laughton directs The Night of the Hunter          


 “The Night of the Hunter is a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale." 
                     ~ Charles Laughton

Styrous® ~ Wednesday, July 26, 2017  


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