THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, an appreciation

Ryan Mahoney

by: Ryan Mahoney
November 18th, 2010

There are few films that I would consider perfect, but THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is one of them.

Charles Laughton’s 1955 film is his sole directorial effort, a crying shame considering what a masterpiece it is. It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes the film so great; a combination of genres and various filmmaking techniques are employed to create such a unique film. The amazing black and white cinematography uses chiaroscuro lighting to evoke the German expressionist films of the 1920’s (THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, Murnau’s NOSFERATU) to great effect. The performances are top-notch (Mitchum and the children especially), and the use of music and dark humor are also exceptional.

The film was largely ignored upon its initial release and it’s not hard to understand why. While the story is fairly straightforward, the manner in which it’s presented is anything but. The film’s content (shocking even today) is another reason for the lack of appreciation from both critics and audiences.

The film was just released on Tuesday in an amazing package by Criterion, in what is sure to be on a short list for DVD/Blu-ray release of the year. Now if you haven’t seen it, you have no excuse. The gem of the new release (besides the great transfer) is a massive two and a half hour documentary about THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, featuring interviews with Laughton, and interesting behind-the-scenes footage shedding light on how the film came to be.

Do yourself a favor and put this at the top of your Christmas list.

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