The Night of the Hunter DVD Review
What’s It About? Phoney preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) marries gullible young waif Willa Harper (Shelley Winters) after previously spending time in prison with her ex-husband, who confides in Powell he’d hidden a large sum of stolen money. Yet Willa’s two children Ben (Peter Graves) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) are reluctant to tell their step-father where the money is, instead choosing to go on the run from him. Soon it turns into a game of cat and mouse that can only end with one victor.
Verdict: The Night Of The Hunter is an incredibly tough film to watch no matter how many times you’ve seen it. The treatment dished out from Powell to the kids is beyond child abuse and is akin to mental and physical torture. Yet this all builds to make such an explosive film that lingers long after the viewing. Mitchum’s performance is one of his career greats (and he’s had many) as he takes apart anyone standing in his way. His downright nastiness to new wife Willa is stomach-churningly evil that doesn’t make for an easy watch, as he turns her into a weak, feeble woman within a matter of days. Part of Mitchum’s superb performance is down to the two children he plays against, as both Graves and Bruce deliver such emotional lines & actions for such young actors. As we see them rise up against Powell’s obnoxiousness, they grow from kids into adults beyond their years whilst on the run. Special mention must go to Lillian Gish, as Rachel Cooper who runs the home for abandoned children, a no-nonsense balls-to-the-wall woman who would scare any adult yet with the kindest heart for the kids.
Much has been made of Charles Laughton’s only directorial film, and sadly it has taken decades for it to be hailed as an influential masterpiece. Laughton knew how to draw the best from all his actors (he wasn’t fond of child actors apparently) as he was an actor himself, which helped dictate what he needs to express to those around him. Alongside cinematographer Stanley Cortez, Laughton gave the film a look of German Expressionism with its strikingly bold, ridge sets and abstract lighting of scenes. It’s probably the closest Hollywood has got to the works of Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau and others for many years before and after.
Extras: The new digital transfer from the 35mm prints looks and sounds incredible – crisp, clean footage that shows how Laughton and cinematographer Stanley Cortez originally saw the film through their own lenses. Cortez also appears in an archival interview that covers how he worked with Laughton, and also how they made the film with such distinct styles. However, the finest extra is the brand new (and exclusive) two and half hour documentary about the making of The Night Of The Hunter. It includes plenty of behind-the-scenes segments that show Laughton directing the cast and how he would recite the lines or expressions time and again to the actors, while only Mitchum escapes the shouting treatment. There are outtakes, failed screen tests and plenty of visual & audio notes from Laughton. It’s a stunning doc that has more information than any fan could wish for.
Final Words: The Night Of The Hunter is one of the few films that crosses the boundary into art. It may have taken years for this to happen, but it’s down to Laughton’s masterful direction and the attitude from Mitchum that blends beautifully to create a movie that is one of the most disturbing thrillers to have ever come out of Hollywood.
The Night of the Hunter is out on Blu-ray on 28 October 2013.