A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
It's the Great Depression. In the process of robbing a bank of $10,000, Ben Harper kills two people. Before he is captured, he is able to convince his adolescent son John and his daughter Pearl not to tell anyone, including their mother Willa, where he hid the money, namely in Pearl's favorite toy, a doll that she carries everywhere with her. Ben, who is captured, tried and convicted, is sentenced to death. But before he is executed, Ben is in the state penitentiary with a cell mate, a man by the name of Harry Powell, a self-professed man of the cloth, who is really a con man and murderer, swindling lonely women, primarily rich widows, of their money before he kills them. Harry does whatever he can, unsuccessfully, to find out the location of the $10,000 from Ben. After Ben's execution, Harry decides that Willa will be his next mark, figuring that someone in the family knows where the money is hidden. Despite vowing not to remarry, Willa ends up being easy prey for Harry's outward ...Written by
An Unusual Blend Of Film Noir & German Expressionism
Veteran actor Charles Laughton's directional debut & perhaps the only feature film he ever directed is a rare breed that blends film-noir with German expressionism, resulting in a very unique looking cinema that unfolds its narrative in a lyrical manner but also makes up for some weird moments as the two styles are often at odds with each other.
Based on the novel of the same name, the story of The Night of the Hunter focuses on one corrupt reverend-turned-serial killer who uses his charm to woo rich widows before killing them & fleeing with their money. Jailed for driving a stolen car, he learns from his cell mate about the large sum of money he had stolen & goes after his family once he's out of prison.
Co-written & directed by Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter really benefits from the few elements it borrows from German expressionism of the silent era like eccentric camera angles, unconventional settings, surreal photography or silhouette figures but its inclusion of stylised dialogues & unrealistic acting in a Hollywood crime-drama is also unintentionally hilarious at times.
Production design work is excellent, Cinematography makes terrific use of lighting, contrast & shadows, camera placement is inventive & every frame is captured in crisp detail. Editing is brilliant for the most part but its final act also feels overstretched, and performances are a mixed bag for the kids do a pretty good job in their given roles while Robert Mitchum's expressionist act borders on hamming.
On an overall scale, The Night of the Hunter is experimental cinema at its finest for it tries to merge into film-noir what influenced the genre in the first place. From a technical standpoint, the film is influential in every manner, especially the way it uses its camera to set a disturbing mood or introduce its themes but its overstretched ending, excessively dramatic lead act & depicted stupidity (or innocence) of children never allowed me to take its premise seriously.
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