Friday, July 15, 2011

Evil in the Midst of Innocence

          "What religion are you preacher?"
          "The religion the almighty and me worked out betwixt ourselves."
       The Rev. Harry Powell's menacing conviction isn't that of a man of God but a pure psychopath. Like Dr. Childers said in Silence of the Lambs: so rare to catch one alive.
      The movie: The Night of the Hunter.
      The preacher: Robert Mitchum.
       The Night of the Hunter is a masterful work of story telling, cinematography and acting. Yet it sunk like a stone when it was released in 1955. The movie is part film noir, part fantasy in its dream-like quality and highly suspenseful, giving viewers a sick sense that evils lurks throughout, though it's camouflaged well. The forces of good versus evil set during the depression. Put that up against Cinemascope.
       Charles Laughton, a fine Brit actor, made his first and only directorial effort on Night of the Hunter, and did a great job. He also co-wrote it with script writer James Agee, who based the script on a novel that was based on a true story.
      In the 1930s, a man named Harry Powers who claimed he was a preacher was convicted and hanged for the murders of two widows. He went as far north as New England, but got nailed in West Virginia. Real life is stranger than fiction.
     This opening scene sets the tone:

       The Criterion Collection recently released Night of the Hunter in a 2-disk set. The first is the movie, a fabulous transfer of the film. The second disk has commentary by Laughton and a discussion by film critic Leonard Maltin. Lovers of cinema well done don't miss it. Go here.
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