The Night of the Hunter (1955)
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A lot of mixed reviews about this movie. I personally love this movie for many reasons. The first time I saw it I was almost alone in an old small cinema in Toulouse. I think it set the mood right. The place could have been part of the film. There might be some spoilers...
What makes the movie so strong for me is basically the photography, the wonderfull shots, surprising angles, use of light and shadows... The decors are amazing, an ode to (the then already very dated) German expressionists (Murnau, Wiene, Lang...). Some moments are genuinly brilliant: the scary looking love bed, that soon becomes a death bed, the whole enchanting river that Tim Burton would love too much. Details such as the children filmed through a spider web (same kind of shot in Ivan's childhood), the frog and other hunting (or guarding?) animals mixed with a couple of cute bunnies. The appearance of Pearl, who looks more like her rag doll than a real child keeps with her the biggest treasure.
Most criticism seems to be about the acting. While all forms of art have many equally valid genres and standards, the art of acting only seems to have one: realism. And I completely agree that if we expect realistic acting, this movie is terrible. But I think our expectations are more to blame than the film. The acting fits very well in the tradition of, once again, German expressionism. Furthermore, they all seem more dreamlike than we are used to in cinema. The characters are both ridiculous and nightmarish, and nightmares have nothing to do with reality (Mitchum is anyway too good an actor to have such a strange 'off performance' if he didn't do it on purpose).
I think he does a wonderful job, his stiff body seems like a machine that is out of control. His voice that will haunt you, "chiillllldren" and his hunting song "leaning on Jesus" combined with his shadow/silhouette play make him really scary. The switchblade game, the mixing up with the left and right hand when he tries to tell the story once more, the scene just before the murder where he keeps his head tilted to be perfectly two-faced. I know it is all very obvious, but I still think it is incredibly good.
In many ways I have to agree that the movie is dated, profanity and stuff don't shock anybody anymore, and the morality of protecting the children, the fight of good and evil, and watch out for charming speakers are even too much for my grandmother. One thing that did shock me was the song the town kids sang to John and Pearl after the execution of their father "hing-hang-hung". So cruel!
Finally this film offers a curious experience of Americana, horror, comedy, Capra-esque sentimentality and redemption (yuck). I was raised with tales and fables. This film is a wonderful extension!
Brilliant. Robert Michum oozes evil and the soundtrack is hauntingly sinister.
Well, I just watched it, loved the cinematography, but didn't see why anyone would like the story and the acting (except for Robert Mitchum's, which was great). So I read a few reviews, and I stumbled upon Ebert's review, in which he stated you should regard this movie as a kind of a nightmare, not as an attempt to represent a realistic, existing world.
An interesting point of view, which makes the plot much more agreeable. So, for now: 7/10, but I should watch again to make sure.
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In 30 official lists
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This movie ranks #2 in Cahiers du Cinéma's 100 Films for an Ideal Cinematheque
This movie ranks #6 in Roger Ebert's Great Movies
This movie ranks #8 in IMDb's Film-Noir Top 50
This movie ranks #14 in Spike Lee's Essential List of Films for Filmmakers
This movie ranks #19 in Arts & Faith's Top 100 Films
This movie ranks #34 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills
This movie ranks #38 in Taschen's 100 All-Time Favorite Movies
This movie ranks #39 in François Truffaut's The Films in My Life
This movie ranks #43 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #53 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Films of All Time
This movie ranks #61 in TSZDT's The 1,000 Greatest Horror Films
This movie ranks #71 in Empire's The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time
This movie ranks #90 in Library of Congress's National Film Registry
This movie ranks #91 in Jennifer Eiss's 500 Essential Cult Movies
This movie ranks #93 in TSPDT's 100 Essential Noir Films
This movie ranks #93 in TSPDT's 1,000 Noir Films
This movie ranks #113 in Butler's Fantasy Cinema: Impossible Worlds on Screen
This movie ranks #173 in 366 Weird Movies
This movie ranks #206 in Reddit Top 250
This movie ranks #221 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown
This movie ranks #233 in FOK!'s Film Top 250
This movie ranks #244 in BFI's 360 Classic Feature Films Project
This movie ranks #292 in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
This movie ranks #363 in Emma Beare's 501 Must-See Movies
This movie ranks #389 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema
This movie ranks #508 in David Thomson's Have You Seen?
This movie ranks #604 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #623 in The Criterion Collection
This movie ranks #627 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die
This movie ranks #653 in Time Out's 1000 Films to Change Your Life