The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Directed by Charles Laughton
Written by James Agee

As I begin to finally shift focus out of Shocktober and into Noir-vember I am very excited with the list of Films Noir I have lined up for first time viewings. I must admit that my Noir expertise is probably fluttering around the novice level, though it is certainly a genre I can get behind, just not one I have investigated at any length to this point. So to kick things off I started with The Night of the Hunter, a film I had heard of before (most on my list did not at first pop out to me). Robert Mitchum was great in Cape Fear, and it has a good reputation, so I was quite excited to get things started this Noir-vember.

The films greatest strength was its visuals. In terms of a film to look at, this one is up there with the best. And this should come to no surprise to me, as one of the noir attributes I am most attracted to are its visual qualities. There is a distinct style that is at least evident if not prevalent in the noir world and a lot of that has to do with the black and white cinematography and the silouhette/shadow usage that can be so beautiful. This film really is a stunner. It even has a nice, simple plot; another trademark of what I am getting myself into. A simple crime drama with the antagonist (Mitchum) tracking down two children whom he knows has $10,000 with them. Mitchum is quite good here. He has a charisma and his voice is certainly an aid in his menace.

The execution of the film, however, was lacking in some departments. There are aspects of the film which are top notch, but others that became quite distracting to me. First and foremost was the preachy and almost arrogant nature of Mrs. Cooper, the sweet little old lady who takes the children in and protects them from Mitchum’s “Preacher” character, ironically enough. It is nice to have Lillian Gish, the silent film star, in the role, but I did not like her performance, or even her character so much. Bearing a lot of the heft in the third act, this was a major hurdle for me. There were also a few too many instances where I was taken out of the film due to a change in style. The grittiness of the story and of the character of “Preacher” are fantastic, but then the film seems to fall into a certain lightness that was so starkly different from the tone of the film that it was distracting and did not work for me. Enough there to enjoy, but enough there for me to not fall in love with it.

*** – Good

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