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Night of the Hunter, The

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
Arrow Academy
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Charles Laughton
Robert Mitchum
Shelley Winters
Lillian Gish
Billy Chapin
Sally Jane Bruce
Bottom Line: 
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This review contains plot details and spoilers

Charles Laughton's only motion picture in the role of director rather than  actor is a work of majestic, shadow haunted lyricism  -- a pitch dark, Southern Gothic pastoral, portraying a tragedy beset dust bowl Americana marinating in lilting traditional folk song and mournful work hymns, and seasoned with the poetry of a biblical fable sung to a child's lullaby. With exquisite high contrast B&W photography by Stanley Cortez and a scintillating orchestral musical score from composer Walter Schumann, “The Night of the Hunter” seeks to convey the eternal struggle between good and evil as seen through the eyes of two small children saddled with a burdensome secret upon their young shoulders: the whereabouts of their dead father’s stash of stolen loot, entrusted to them by him before capture by the police and his appointment with the hangman. Throughout their travails they are menaced in the home and then stalked along the Ohio River Valley in a Depression-era West Virginia of the 1930s, by the tenacious spectre of their psychotic preacher man of a stepfather -- Robert Mitchum's charismatic, widow murdering modern 'Bluebeard', the Reverend Harry Powell.  The film is a beguiling, sometimes quietly mordant fable, with the quality of an old time folktale, spotlighting some truly beautiful, finely judged performances from a cast of adroitly selected players. Simply put, it is gorgeous filmmaking: exemplary in its myth-making and steeped in nostalgic revelry for the pioneering cinema of W.D. Griffith. Laughton pitches it somewhere between historically authentic reconstruction of the impoverished, Steinbeck and Faulkner-esque agrarian milieu that would no doubt once have been inhabited by the true life ‘Lonely Hearts’ serial killer Harry Powers (hanged for the murder of two women and three children in Clarksberg, West Virginia in 1932 -- and the original inspiration for Mitchum’s bible-thumping sociopath), and a delirious fantasia of expressionistic horror, incorporating elements of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale with the romantic idealism of an enchanted Hollywood musical whose songs come wrapped in the velvety cocooning textures of a dark fantastical dream.

The film is structured and presented like an allegorical narrative from a lost storybook in which the magic of biblical stories, traditional homilies and fairy tales define how many of its characters understand themselves and psychologically relate to each other. It’s appropriate then, that this adaptation of Davis Grubb’s bestselling novel came about after former agent turned independent producer Paul Gregory saw Laughton on The Ed Sullivan Show give a reading of The Sermon on the Mount from the Bible. As a result, Gregory set the actor up with a successful national reading tour, which was followed by the formation of a small theatrical troupe which also traversed the country from coast-to-coast with Laughton directing its repertoire -- a first experience in the role of director which kindled in him the desire to turn his skills to film, with Gregory agreeing to produce.

Grubb’s novel proved the ideal choice of material, and the novelist enthusiastically co-operated with the production, sending Laughton his own sketches depicting scenes from the book as he envisioned them translated to the big screen. Author, journalist, poet and film critic James Agee (who’d written the screenplay for John Huston’s “The African Queen”) contributed much to the subsequent adaptation’s mythic status, although his sprawling 293-page screenplay had to be cut in half, and Agee later wrote correspondence suggesting that Laughton should share his writer’s credit, so convinced was he that Laughton’s own contribution in tweaking, polishing and refining the material had been a major component in the unique nature of the finished product. Laughton refused the offer, but critical opinion for many years had it that the screenplay was mostly the director’s own work, although this has been challenged recently by a handful of scholars who’ve been given unprecedented access to Agee’s original, as yet unpublished manuscript. 

The film opens with a magical prologue set to Schumann’s dreamiest cue -- a lullaby swoon with instructional lyrics that exalt their subject to “dream, little one, dream”, before informing us that “fear is only a dream”. The musical phrase floats across a twinkling starscape in which Lillian Gish materialises from the void like an apparition, in anticipation of her character’s coming relevance to the plot, and delivers those familiar Biblical homilies (‘Blessed are the pure of heart’ … ‘the lilies of the field’ … ‘judge not lest ye be judged, etc’.) to a firmament composed from a scattered constellation of disembodied children’s heads grinning wildly (weirdly, the effect now reminds one of the opening of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead”!) as they soak-in the homespun instructional good sense and morality. The most pertinent lesson turns out to be the one which says: “beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing. For inwardly they are ravening wolves, and ye shall know them by their fruits”.

This amalgamation of traditional folk wisdom and gentle, New Testament derived Biblical instruction set to with an exquisite fairy tale ambience, pretty much sums up the dynamic of the rest of the movie’s dealings with the entwined nature of good and evil, corruption and innocence. The fairy tale Big Bad Wolf in Biblical sheep’s clothing in this case emerges driving an old Essex touring car (previously stolen) across West Virginian country dotted with picket fence-lined small towns, farms and picturesque church steeples poking from deep within the valley which we initially view from above  (via second unit helicopter shots)  as though we’ve just drifted here from a rarefied Platonic realm of moral purity represented by the innocence of Gish’s well-loved and cared for little ones -- those happy children gazing down from above upon this imperfect, fearful and spoiled world of material corruption they must one day negotiate below. Here Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) travels the countryside dressed as a preacher in black, believing himself to be a man of God who is doing the Lord’s work by murdering unhappy widows and stealing their savings. (‘You don’t mind the killing,’ he reminds his God as he passes a cemetery, ‘your book’s full of killing!’). The first ‘fruits’ of his godly endeavours to appear in the film are those which are discovered by a group of children playing hide-and-seek in farmland outside an abandoned house. The confrontation between innocence (represented by childhood) and evil, embodied in Powell’s religiously motivated sexual psychopathy and misogyny, seems to be symbolised in the grotesquely twisted legs of the female murder victim seen poking out of a basement door with her red shoes askew, stared at solemnly by children previously engaged in carefree play.

Powell ends up at a sleazy burlesque joint, cursing how there are far too many of these ‘perfume-smellin' things, lacy things, things with curly hair’ to be able to kill all of them, while he clenches at the phallic stick-blade that’s hidden in a coat pocket inadvertently torn when the instrument flicks up in the middle of the on-stage dancer’s performance of a lewd strip routine! This knowing piece of Freudian symbolism would have hardly been subtle even in 1955, but Laughton’s sly humour is augmented by having Powell’s point of view of the stage represented from a key hole-shaped filter placed over the camera lens to drum home the furtive, hypocritical nature of his hatred towards women, blaming them for his own lusty desires while framing the self-disgust as religious observance. After he’s picked up by state troopers for stealing the touring car, and imprisoned for thirty days in the local penitentiary, Powell providentially shares his cell with Ben Harper (Peter Graves), a convict awaiting the gallows for the murder of two people killed during a store robbery that went wrong, but in which he escaped with $10,000 cash -- an act committed out of the desperation of poverty and a wish to see his children fed and clothed in harsh times.

Aware that Harper has never revealed the location of the missing loot to the authorities, Powell takes up with Ben’s widow, the vulnerable Willa Harper (Shelley Winters) soon after his release, claiming he was sent by Ben to provide comfort in the family’s hour of mourning. Quickly figuring out that Ben’s two children, twelve-year-old John (Billy Chapin) and five-year-old Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), know what Willa evidently doesn’t -- that the money is still close at hand! -- after pretending that Ben told him in prison that he threw the cash in the Ohio River wrapped around a twelve-pound cobble stone, Powell’s course of action becomes all too clear: the lie does what it was intended to, and draws an involuntary reaction from John, ensuring Powell’s courtship of the fragile Willa quickly pays off in a marriage that will give him enough time to force the secret of the whereabouts of the money out of the children.  John and Pearl find themselves with a malevolent stepdad, who only ever reveals his true character to them when they’re alone with him, while the rest of the small community of Cresap’s Landing are too blinded by the Reverend Powell’s holy persona to see the truth.    

Religion is, of course, all over this film in multiple guises, not least in the visual echo of biblical texts captured by the imagery used during the children’s subsequent cross-country/down-river trek, which ends with them being discovered amid the reeds on the bank of the river, sleeping in their father’s old skiff like Moses among the bulrushes; but the tone and nature of the expression of this religious quality constantly varies according to the character of the adult who’s extolling or dispensing it at any one particular time, rather than the other way round. Sequences such as the opening fantasy/fairy tale prologue were partly included as a means of demonstrating to the Breen Office that the film was ‘for religion rather than against it’ (a phrase used in internal production correspondence) but Lillian Gish’s practical, maternal (and, of course, widowed) foster-caring homebody farm lady doesn’t appear until the final third of the movie. Up until then, the primary image of religion conveyed by the film is relayed through Powell’s own illustrative parable, which he uses to charm the residents of the folksy communities he exploits.

The story of Right-hand/Left-hand is his means of explaining the motivation for his tattooed fingers, spelling out the words H-A-T-E on the left and L-O-V-E on the right hand. These two emotions not only represent good and evil but, it is suggested by the structure of the movie itself, the varying guises religion embodies in human affairs, and how they’re engaged in their own struggle for dominance. Powell himself, of course, takes on the most destructive face of religion, all the more pronounced for his successful adoption of its benign institutional face in public life. As the film progresses, he becomes almost as much of a supernatural bogeyman as Michael Myers in the “Halloween” franchise: his shadow first looms across the children from an irrational angle while John attempts to tell his little sister a bedtime story in their room to lull her to sleep (a fairy tale version of their own predicament, used to try and make sense of the guilt and pressure John feels because of the huge promise made to his father); and after murdering their mother later in the film, when she overhears him losing his temper and scaring Pearl (‘tell me where the money is you little wretch, or I’ll tear your arm off!’), Powell becomes an ogre-like monster who intimidates the trusting little girl with his stick-knife (bear in mind this weapon was earlier also used as a blatant phallic metaphor!), pursues the two children to the basement coal cellar of their house, and then across the swampy river banks near the town jetty as they flee for their lives.

He appears to have a preternatural ability to seek them out in the landscape and wherever they may go in their ensuing cross-country flight across the farmlands of the river valley when they are forced to sleep by night in hay lofts and beg for food on the roads. He appears on a white horse like an image of one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, cast in silhouette on the dawn horizon, apparently never sleeping, eternally patient and always just a heartbeat away from catching them up. Tacitly suggested by Powell’s looming omnipresence in the lives of the fleeing children is the idea that Powell has become the shadow of John’s conscience, haunting him because his loyalty to the memory of his father forces him to hide the blood money which resulted in the death of two innocent people, transferring in the process his father’s guilt to himself. In this light, it’s an interesting move that’s made in the final part of the film, which doesn’t always play well with some audiences but which adds a patina of uniqueness to the film’s portrayal of evil, when it takes this menacing, amoral, psychotic preacher man who becomes increasingly demonic when seen through the eyes of the children he pursues, and turns him into a ridiculous, almost comedic figure after he’s confronted by the intrinsic goodness of the children’s adoptive protector Miss Cooper (Gish), who sees straight through his charm talk and faux sermonising immediately.

Thereafter, he is relatively easily neutralised with a blast of buckshot that sends him hopping and howling into Miss Cooper’s hay shed like a cornered fox. The odd, looped screech accompanying his flight seems unnatural and dehumanising; Miss Cooper even tells the state troopers who turn up to arrest him the next morning, that there’s ‘something’ in her shed, rather than someone. Before this, though, there’s a symbolically suggestive sequence in which Miss Cooper keeps watch at the window of her farmhouse with a rifle on her lap while Powell keeps vigil outside, hoping to find a way in and abduct John and Pearl in the night. He starts up an a cappella rendition of the traditional hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” with which Miss Cooper joins in, the two of them harmonising perfectly, suggesting these two opposite faces of religion are intimately tied to each other, and the earthly struggle between love and hate is one in which each is intrinsically defined by the other.      

A former silent movie star of W.D. Griffith’s cinema, Lillian Gish’s Rachel Cooper is the ‘Mother Goose’ figure in the story, binding together the film’s fairy tale and Biblical parable elements. Her character takes in the homeless young waifs and strays from the countryside when they come to her door begging for food, and her personal version of religion is centred on the charitable, loving aspects in her character which have been accentuated since the loss of her own child earlier in life. The film presents a rare instance of a character being able to sum up their own personality without it feeling like a forced piece of exposition, when she proudly states at one point: ‘I'm a strong tree with branches for many birds. I'm good for something in this world and I know it too!’ Miss Cooper is more attuned to the hardships faced by children in a cruel, indifferent world (‘It’s a hard world for little things.’) than anyone else in the picture other than Ben Harper, whose tragically misguided robbery was motivated by his weariness at seeing starving children in a Depression hit country, roaming the woodlands and highways. Miss Cooper’s conception of childhood -- which imagines all children at some stage being faced with ‘a time of running through a dark place’ -- fits in with ideas about the meaning of fairy tales such as those expressed by the Brothers Grimm version of Hansel and Gretel, in which children are confronted with the loss of their parents and the realisation that the world is a potentially hostile place when faced alone, but that it can nevertheless be survived.

‘There’s no word for a young’un’s fear,’ says Miss Cooper at the very end of the film. But there are fairy tales and nursery rhymes for it -- and “The Night of the Hunter” echoes them when it presents us with one of the most enchanting pastoral fantasy sequences in cinema during the middle section of the movie, when John and Pearl escape Powell’s intent to finally do away with them both after forcing Pearl, with the threat of violence towards her older brother, to reveal that the money he seeks is stuffed into the back of her favourite rag doll. After this, they take their father’s old skiff and push out along the Ohio River by moonlight -- a sequence shot in a tank on a soundstage at RKO Studios, but turned into a truly gorgeous, night-time sylvan fairyland sequence of Gothic fantasy thanks to the combination of Stanley Cortez’s sumptuous use of expressionistic lighting effects and some utterly seamless optical printing techniques used to introduce a small menagerie of riverbank wildlife into the foreground of the scene, to watch over the two babes in the wood as they drift beneath the separately shot, sparkling starry firmament that’s reflected in the churning river ferrying them downstream. Even the spider’s web suspended above them was optically added to the scene, and was made of a piece of white twine dripping with honey to represent drops of dew. The sequence also includes a magical piece of music written to be sung by little Pearl as the two children are cast adrift in the lonely black night: it’s one of several original songs written for the film by Walter Schumann which, when nestled amongst the other musical pieces heard throughout the picture (such as the 19th century folk song “Bringing in the Sheaves”, sung by the residents of Crespar’s Landing during a summer picnic earlier in the film) render the movie worthy of consideration as an early example of that rare breed, the horror/fantasy musical -- to be filed alongside such diverse entries in the sub-genre as “The Wicker Man” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”! ‘Once Upon a Time There Was a Pretty Fly’ is a shimmering, mournful, childlike air, with nursery rhyme lyrics that poetically capture the guileless innocence in the nature of little Pearl, surrounded as she is at that moment by evil-perpetuating darkness and looming horror.

The children’s rescue from the reeds of the riverbed by Miss Cooper is the first moment in the film when an adult figure is able to offer them some assistance; up until that point all of the adults depicted in the movie are too blinded by the institutional face of religion (as represented by Reverend Powell) and their own prejudices to be able to spot the evil lurking in their midst in plain sight. The only character who is aware of the fact that something isn’t quite right with the interloper is Ben Harper’s old timer friend ‘Uncle’ Birdie Steptoe (James Gleason). He becomes a surrogate father to John during Willa Harper’s ill-omened marriage to Reverend Powell, but is unable to come to the children’s rescue at their hour of need, too incapacitated is he by enduring grief for his long-departed wife Bessie, which lends him to hit the bottle as an escape. When John and Pearl at last attempt to find refuge in his run-down shack on the wharf, with Powell in hot pursuit, he’s too insensible from drink to help them.

Miss Cooper’s grief for the loss of her son is sublimated in good works that cherish innocence and the ability of children to endure hardship and survive against the odds: ‘you know, when you're little, you have more endurance than God is ever to grant you again. Children are man at his strongest. They abide.’ This elevation of childhood as the brief moment in life when humanity is at its best seems also to be bound up with the film’s complex meditations on sexuality, repression and, in particular, their relationship with the nature of femininity. Miss Cooper’s charity seems partly rooted in her awareness of such issues, illustrated in the film through her relationship with one of her older charges, Ruby (Gloria Castillo). A teenager on the cusp of sexual awakening, but still very much with a childlike innocence about her that makes her naive and vulnerable to the attentions of men, Ruby is portrayed as a victim of her curiosity and desire. Innocence at this stage of adolescence becomes dangerous; Ruby’s head is turned by movie magazines with glamorous cover stars, representing a world of romance and escape from the commonplace drudgery of the everyday that help to tempt her into potentially being led ‘astray’ by the predatory youths who line the streets in town outside the ice-cream parlour (itself a symbol of sexual temptation for females, just as basements and cellars are throughout associated with masculine violence). Miss Cooper is all too aware of the potential results of such assignations; her comment that, ‘she'll be losing her mind to a tricky mouth and a full moon, and like as not, I'll be saddled with the consequences,’ suggests one or two other of the collection of 'young’uns' she’s amassed at her farmhouse before now have arrived there for similar reasons: young women are seduced into sex then have to secretly give up the resultant babies in order to preserve their good name in a society prone to demonise them for their mistakes; but it is their naive innocence rather than wantonness that Miss Cooper blames for such a state of affairs: ‘You were looking for love, Ruby, in the only foolish way you knew how,’ she comforts, after Ruby is fooled by the good looks and lazy charm of Reverenced Powell into revealing the location of John and Pearl over a romantic ice-cream sundae. But even after his malevolence becomes plainly apparent, Ruby retains her hormonal rose-tinted view of Powell, so encumbered is she by foolish notions of romance fostered by the magazine and movie media she avidly consumes.

Ruby’s naivety and the way in which Reverend Powell’s ‘bad boy’ charisma is able to exploit such qualities for his own ends despite his evident misogyny and the religious disgust he exhibits towards the feminine form when it is considered anywhere except outside of its role in motherhood, is paralleled by little Pearl’s almost comical acceptance of ‘Daddy Powell’ as her new father (to the exasperation of her older, more worldly brother), even when his perfidy and hatred towards her is made blatantly manifest. Such naivety is given its most tragic expression in the person of John and Pearl’s unfortunate mother Willa, though: she is entrenched in a community (represented by the horrendous busybody Icey Spoon [Evelyn Varden]) in which religious observance and marriage are all about keeping up correct appearances rather than self-fulfilment or love. It is a woman’s job to ‘catch’ a suitable, well-respected man with a good position in society -- and sex is merely something one gives as a gift to him in order to keep him placated, rather than something to be enjoyed by a woman for its own sake: ‘a woman's a fool to marry for that,’ insists Icey; ‘that's somethin' for a man. The Good Lord never meant for a decent woman to want that. Not really want it. It's all just a fake and a pipe dream!’ The fragile Willa is conditioned into what one might call a state of false consciousness by Icey’s insistence  that’ when you've been married to a man for forty years you know all that don't amount to a hill of beans!’

One mustn’t let considerations such as self-fulfilment cloud one’s judgement, for it is social appearances that truly matter, and anyway: ‘a husband's one piece of store goods you never know 'til you get it home and take the paper off!’ Willa allows herself to be shamed into marrying the fine catch that is Powell for the sake of being seen to provide a proper family for her two children, and then shamed again inside the marriage by the misogynistic religion Powell espouses for retaining even a trace of her womanly charms and desires. The woman-hating preacher insists: ‘that body was meant for begettin' children. It was not meant for the lust of men!’ Willa is made to feel unclean and impure and even when she finally realises that Powell has only married her to get at the money, so utterly subjugated is she by this false ideology by this point that she still believes her situation is a punishment that will eventually result in her ‘cleansing’ and salvation. Her murder is a disturbing display of religious self-abnegation on the woman’s part, with Willa pictured alone, awaiting her fate in the shadow-swathed marital bed, perfectly still and already in repose like a corpse in its coffin. Laughton and cinematographer Stanley Cortez fashion the attic bedroom into the shape of a church steeple with light and shadow, the rays of Heaven ironically filtering through a small attic window as Powell penetrates Willa the only way his misogyny will sanction … with a knife. Again, Walter Schumann adds to the warped atmosphere of the sequence by scoring it with a weirdly beautiful waltz. Powell’s disposal of the woman’s body echoes his concocted story about the stolen money being thrown in the river wrapped around a cobblestone. In one of the most astonishingly eerie sequences in all of 1950s cinema, Willa’s bone-white corpse is bound and dumped with the touring car, still perched delicately in the passenger seat, later to be discovered by Birdie Steptoe’s enquiring fishing line -- an effect created with a totally convincing mannequin of Shelley Winters made from a life cast of the actress. The aqueous tableau has a bizarre necrophilic beauty to it -- Willa’s suspended blonde hair mimicking the lazy sinuous motions of the riverbed weeds glinting through the sunlight in the shimmering waters.  

Laughton’s emphasis on dark irony reaches its apogee in the final act of the movie, beginning with the moment when Powell is finally taken into custody at the Cooper farmhouse. The arrest is choreographed to precisely mimic the earlier arrest of John’s father, also witnessed by the boy at the beginning of the film, just after he’d been entrusted with the stolen money and sworn to protect his little sister from harm until they were both old enough to benefit from the monetary gain. The guilt associated with his father’s acts of murder and theft, and the knowledge that he made these choices and subsequently sacrificed his life in order to provide for them, becomes too much at last for the boy to bear when the mimetic scene of Powell’s arrest brings the memory flooding back; and, ironically, this, the moment of defeat for Powell, becomes the only moment in the film when the murderous preacher at last comes to be seen in a light that is in any way comparable to John’s idolised father.  John almost involuntarily unburdens his conscience at this point by throwing the cash at Powell, who is now pinioned by ‘the blue men’ in the same pose as his dead father was at his moment of his  own capture; but the state is just about to burden John with an even greater load: the responsibility of providing the testimony that will condemn Powell to the gallows!

It’s a burden he refuses, and Powell is led from the back of the courthouse as an angry lynch mob (led by an axe-waving Icey Spoon) assembles. The film remains constant in its condemnation of societal conformity, in many ways citing it as the primary means by which an evil such as Reverend Powell’s prospers, and there is a clear anti-capital punishment message embedded in the narrative. It’s significant that Powell’s greatest champion earlier in the film, Icey, is the most vociferous in calling for his execution when his crimes are eventually revealed. But John remembers the casual vindictive pleasure the townsfolk took in the hanging of his father (the other children in the town tormented him and his sister with a cruel song about it, which Pearl was too young to realise had been meant as a taunt), even though the hangman, in comparison to the people of the community he serves, was portrayed in a humane light, tortured by the awful job he had to do and which he’d only taken in the first place to escape working in the mines. The film ends, with affecting sentimentality, at Christmas (making this an ideal alternative seasonal watch, along with Val Lewton’s “Curse of the Cat People”, for those sick of “The Wizard of Oz” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year), when order is restored and John and Pearl are at last provided with a loving family headed by Miss Cooper -- which may not reflect the conventional unit extolled by Icey Spoon in her obsession with following social convention, but provides them with the safety and comfort they’ve surely earned after their ‘time of running through darkness’.  

“The Night of the Hunter” has been cited by director Guillermo de Toro as one of his favourite films, and it’s easy to see how its identification with the world-view of childhood and its sense of the magical mixed with terror fits in with his own work. Unfortunately, the film was a total flop at the box office at the time, and Laughton was left despondent by its lack of recognition. He never directed another film. Sixty years later and it’s is easy to see that it has become one of the great one off classics of American cinema, a fact that’s re-emphasised by this new restored Blu-ray edition from Arrow Films, released as part of its Academy Collection.

The restoration was undertaken by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in cooperation with MGM Studios, with funding provided by the Film Foundation and Robert B Strum; and the digital transfer was struck from the original 35mm film elements. For the first time, this presentation features the film in its original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio, as opposed to previous DVD releases in which it was transferred at a full frame open matte 1.33:1 ratio. The composition of the image certainly now looks much more convincing and the transfer preserves film-like grain while improving on the clarity of the previous already impressive DVD from MGM. The Mono PCM track is also impressive and is probably the best means of listening to the film, especially as it’s the original track; but there is also a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix included for those who want it, as well as an isolated music and effects track. The original theatrical trailer is included on the disc as an extra, as is a short 1980s French documentary featuring cinematographer Stanley Cortez discussing his work on the film and his working relationship with Charles Laughton.

The Arrow release also comes with a booklet featuring an essay on the film by film critic David Thompson, and there’s a reversible sleeve with the original poster artwork on one side and a brand new piece of work from Graham Humphries on the other. By far the most interesting extra here though is the mammoth collection of outtakes and rushes brought together for this release in the form of a ‘Making Of’ documentary which runs at two-hours-and-forty-minutes in total. This features archivist Robert Gitt providing a voice-over narration which covers the production history of the movie from conception to (poor) reception upon its release; but it primarily consists of some fascinating footage of Laughton directing the actors. Particularly instructive is his close direction of Shelley Winters during her murder scene, when Laughton spends a huge amount of time and countless retakes trying to get Winters to give just the right pitch and emphasis to a single line in her performance (much to the visible frustration of the actress), such is his total perfectionism and attention to detail. He also displays great patience with five-year-old Sally Jane Bruce, whose attention naturally beings to wander after the first few takes of any scene she’s in! This is the perfect accompaniment to a classic movie, covering the filming of many of the major scenes and supplemented with production stills and biographies of the principle actors and technicians. “The Night of the Hunter is a haunting and magical piece of work and is getting a suitably impressive HD release here from the UK’s Arrow films. Recommended.

Read more from Black Gloves at his Blog, Nothing but the Night! 

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