Night of the Hunter

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(1955, directed by Charles Laughton)

- inducted 2014 –

“It's difficult to think of another director who only directed one film having as much influence on cinema as Charles Laughton, but then again Laughton always was a singular figure. The Night of the Hunter, his one and only effort behind the camera, went on to inspire generations of filmmakers, most notably David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, the Coens, and Spike Lee (who went so far as to quote at length from it in Do The Right Thing). Laughton himself took inspiration from German Expressionism, one of the earliest and most lasting influences on cinema, with its angular distortion and chiaroscuro shadows.

“Unlike standard film noir, which mostly restricted its borrowing from Expressionism to a utilitarian use of shadow, Laughton and co-screenwriter James Agee (who, to put it mildly, knew a thing or two about movies) mined German cinema of the 20s deeper, incorporating into the very heart of The Night of the Hunter that sense of the fairy tale that pervaded the films of Lang, Murnau, Pabst et al. The Night of the Hunter, in contrast to the noirs that used German visual style to tell crime stories, tells a crime story in the form of an Expressionist fable.

“At the center of it all is Robert Mitchum, in the finest work of a brilliant career as the fable's monster, a giant, superficially charming murderer of women who believes he does so in the name of God. In this sense, he could be a projection of the American id. The film's two child protagonists, whom Mitchum pursues for their knowledge of the whereabouts of a missing bank-robbery stash, flee and are taken in by a kind old woman (a marvelous Lilian Gish, who by her very presence connects the film to the beginning of the medium), who protects them against the beast. As written, the film could be a fairly standard noir story with the slightly novel twist of starring two children, but as filmed (with the help of the great cinematographer Stanley Cortez) Laughton's fulsome embrace of Expressionism highlights the effectiveness of the symbolic and unreal at creating emotional impact.

“It's not a subtle film, but Charles Laughton was not a subtle man. The Night of the Hunter has taken on classic status despite doing poor business on initial release for being an intelligently, artfully executed variation on a story as old as time, and that is going nowhere: escaping the monster. Despite the fact that they do, the title of the movie itself is an ironic indicator of one of life's hardest truths: we are always on the monster's home turf, and escape is thus that much harder.” ~ Danny Bowes

Principal cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, Don Beddoe, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce, Gloria Castilo
Screenplay by James Agee, Charles Laughton (uncredited)
Based on the novel by Davis Grubb
Produced by Paul Gregory
Director of photography: Stanley Cortez
Production design by Hilyard M. Brown (art direction), Al Spencer (set decoration)
Film editing by Robert Golden
Original music by Walter Schumann
Makeup by Don Cash
Hair stylist: Kay Shea
Sound by Stanford Houghton
Special photographic effects by Louis DeWitt, Jack Rabin
Children directed by Robert Mitchum (uncredited)

USA
Duration: 93 minutes
Languages: English
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Produced by Paul Gregory Productions
Released in USA by United Artists
Premiered in Des Moines, IA on 26 July 1955

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1992
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 24 November 2006