A Netflix Finds Review
"There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin' things, lacy things, things with curly hair."
Robert Mitchum terrified a generation and influenced a culture with his preaching the gospel, and his bewildering sense of faith in Charles Laughton's final film Night of the Hunter. Ben Harper (portrayed by a youthful Peter Graves) has murdered two men in a robbery, then hidden the $10,000 in cash inside of his daughter Pearl's doll. He entrusts his son John to protect Pearl and never tell anyone the location of the money. Before being sentenced to death, Ben reveals clues in his sleep to his cellmate, the Reverend Harry Powell.
Powell is unquestionably one of the most devious villains you will ever come across in film. It's not so much the deeds that are done by him that make him such a bastard, though those certainly don't help. Throughout the film, he murders, he steals, he lies - all while deceiving every town he passes through. But what makes him so despicable is his unwavering faith. His faith in the gospel, and his belief that everything he does, is in the great name of Jesus Christ. Polarizing for it's time, Night of the Hunter is an one-of-a-kind thriller set in the airy landscapes of West Virginia. It cross-country's the state in a widespread chase as Powell hunts the children who have escapes his clutches.
Mitchum's performance resonates strongly in this time we live in. Imagine some of these extremists who feel complete gratification at other people's suffering, but yet still preach the word of God. Powell, if real and alive today, would feel right at home with a certain church in Topeka, KS. Hell, he'd probably be the next president with the way religious zealots seemed to dominate politics these days. There are some unnerving parallels between Powell's extremism and today's political climate, which makes Netflix's decision to make this classic thriller so readily available via Instant Watch so ironic, if not topical.
Shelly Winter's has a support role in the film as Ben Harper's widow, whom Powell swoons once entering their quiet town. She's already viewed in such a terrible light that it seems like a godsend for Powell to take her under his wing and nurture and care for the family, whilst truthfully punishing her for elusive misdeeds. She's an utterly frail character, which is one of the minor flaws with the film. While at the same time pinpointing what it is that scares some non-religious folks from "believing," Night of the Hunter doesn't paint a pretty picture for women, and probably has come under fire for seeming "misogynistic" in some circles.
Nevertheless, Night of the Hunter is relevant to our times, and a true classic in the thriller genre. It's antagonist is calculating, cruel, but above all else believable. Mitchum was the quintessential anti-hero of film. He'd follow Powell up with his iconic portrayal of another sadist - the brutal psychopath Max Cady opposite Gregory Peck in Cape Fear. But it's Hunter that stands out to me so much, not just for Mitchum, but also for the pure fear that he inflicts upon his prey. It's called Night of the Hunter, but the hunt goes on for much longer than one night. It goes on for decades it seems.
MPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Runtime: 93 mins.
Director: Charles Laughton
Writer: James Agee
Cast: Robert Mitchum; Shelley Winters; Lillian Gish; James Gleason
Genre: Drama | Classic | Film-Noir
Tagline: The Hands Of ROBERT MITCHUM in "The Night of the Hunter"
Memorable Movie Quote: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them."
Distributor: United Artists
Theatrical Release Date: September 29, 1955
Link to Netflix: Night of the Hunter
Synopsis: A religious fanatic marries a gullible widow whose young children are reluctant to tell him where their real daddy hid $10,000 he'd stolen in a robbery.