Moorman

The Night of the Hunter, 1955 ( My Personal Greatest Movie of All Time)

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Disclaimer: I've just recently got into the " classic", " and " film noir "genres of movies about a year and a half ago.  About two years ago I got into "classic westerns", and that naturally progressed over into other classic genres after I started enquiring about them on the Sergio Leone board.  I say all this to point out that I'm gonna admit I haven't seen nearly enough classic or more modern films to make my bold statement, BUT, I feel I have seen enough thus far.  I know the majority will not agree and people have their own opinion on what the greatest film of all time is.  Now, with that out of the way, in my PERSONAL opinion, the Greatest Movie of All Time) is The Night of the Hunter by Charles Laughton.  What makes this even more stunning to me personally is the fact that the film was considered a commercial failure when it was released and discouraged Laughton from ever directing again. Its a shame but its also what makes the film even that more special.  I'm gonna start with my review I posted last year on the Sergio Leone Forum and follow that up with the beginning of Roger Ebert's review of the film:

My review from February 2017 Sergio Leone Forum:

WHERE do i start?  I guess i'm just gonna put it out there.  This is the BEST movie i have ever seen. I admit, i'm still new to westerns and classic movies, which are my favorite genres ( 1970 on back), but i'm gonna go out on a limb here. This is the BEST movie i've personally, ever seen.

" I first got wind of this movie by looking for something to watch on Turner Classic Movies. I recorded it after reading the description one day back early this year. I sat down and watched it, not really knowing what to expect.  It started a little slow, then built up tension as it went along.  By the time it got to the scene where Mitchum's character had married the widow, i knew this was gonna be special.  From the moment he married her, all the way to the end, this picture had me terrified. I was left speechless.

Everything about this movie. The plot. The acting. The direction. The cinematography. The musical score. EVERYTHING was just top notch. I read numerous reviews of the movie after watching it, and one of them stood out.  The reviewer said what i said about the film. It was if " i had lived this movie before".  The boogeyman was a character, that in this case, was a very believable boogeyman. The acting of Mitchum. I KNEW he wasn't acting. That character is HIM. I later read that Mitchum always said he wasn't acting in his movies, that he was just being himself.  The cinematograpy. The music, the direction, the plot, i could go on for days. The movie was kinda surreal. Its a BEAUTIFUL movie. Its to me, what Orson Welles was always trying to accomplish, but Charles Laughton pulled it off in ONE movie.

Its a shame that Laughton never got the praise he should've for this movie.  The good thing is this movie is now a cult favorite and gets high praise from directors like Scorsese, Lee and others. You can see the influence of this movie in a ton of movies made today. I don't give these out too often, but this gets my two thumbs up rating of a perfect 10 out of 10..."

 

Roger Ebert review November 1996

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-night-of-the-hunter-1955

Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter” (1955) is one of the greatest of all American films, but has never received the attention it deserves because of its lack of the proper trappings. Many “great movies” are by great directors, but Laughton directed only this one film, which was a critical and commercial failure long overshadowed by his acting career. Many great movies use actors who come draped in respectability and prestige, but Robert Mitchum has always been a raffish outsider. And many great movies are realistic, but “Night of the Hunter” is an expressionistic oddity, telling its chilling story through visual fantasy. People don't know how to categorize it, so they leave it off their lists.

 

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I am glad you enjoy the film so much. There are some things I don't like about it, that stand in the way of my fully enjoying it.

Two big things. I think the ending is a cop-out because of the production code. I don't feel Gish's character needs to be a savior in this movie. I think if this had been made in Europe, the ending would have been much more grim. She would not have succeeded against Mitchum's character. It should really be a cautionary tale about what happens when you fail to provide for your children in the event of your death. For it to have such a syrupy sweet ending just doesn't ring true to me.

The other thing is I don't like the way religious people are stereotyped in this movie. And how they are shaded to the extremes. The characters are either pure holiness or totally satanic. Like there's no real middle ground in the story. It would have been more realistic if we'd seen good and evil in all the characters.

What I do like: the acting is first rate from the entire cast, including the younger performers. I also like the pacing, how the scenes don't drag on too much, and there's plenty of momentum. The cinematography is certainly outstanding. So many great images. Long after it ends, you still remember her floating in the water, you still remember his knuckles, and you still remember the old woman with the kids, and the kids on the run.

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40 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

I am glad you enjoy the film so much. There are some things I don't like about it, that stand in the way of my fully enjoying it.

Two big things. I think the ending is a cop-out because of the production code. I don't feel Gish's character needs to be a savior in this movie. I think if this had been made in Europe, the ending would have been much more grim. She would not have succeeded against Mitchum's character. It should really be a cautionary tale about what happens when you fail to provide for your children in the event of your death. For it to have such a syrupy sweet ending just doesn't ring true to me.

The other thing is I don't like the way religious people are stereotyped in this movie. And how they are shaded to the extremes. The characters are either pure holiness or totally satanic. Like there's no real middle ground in the story. It would have been more realistic if we'd seen good and evil in all the characters.

What I do like: the cinematography is certainly outstanding, and the acting is first rate from the entire cast, including the younger performers. I also like the pacing, how the scenes don't drag on too much, and there's plenty of momentum. The imagery is also excellent. Long after it ends, you still remember her floating in water, you still remember his knuckles, and you still remember the old woman with the kids, and the kids on the run.

The religious subject matter IS part of the reason that people ran from it.  The film was waaaaaaay ahead of its time.  To me, the ending was perfect.  There was a lesson there.  It FIT the film.  In " The Woman in the Window," the code encouraged Lang to put a ending in the film that felt tacked on and forced. It was out of place with the tone of the film.  In The Night of the Hunter, I believe the ending is what Laughton wanted.  The bad guy wasn't gonna get away.  Ms. Cooper had called the police who were gonna catch him anyway.

The tone of the film, though surreal, was REALISTIC.  There was nothing about the film that wasn't believable. There are two movies that come to mind that are kinda at the opposite extremes of this film that if they could meet in the middle, would remind me of what Laughton did.  " The Devil and Daniel Webster " starring Walter Huston and "Joe" starring Nicholas Cage.  Daniel Webster was surreal but too into the fantasy realm.  Joe's character was similar to Ms. Cooper but the film itself was more violent.  They both had elements though of what Laughton created. Laughton created the perfect balance in his film which made it all believable.  Its a MASTERPIECE.

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1 minute ago, Moorman said:

The religious subject matter IS part of the reason that people ran from it.  The film was waaaaaaay ahead of its time.  To me, the ending was perfect.  There was a lesson there.  It FIT the film.  In " The Woman in the Window," the code encouraged Lang to put a ending in the film that felt tacked on and forced. It was out of place with the tone of the film.  In The Night of the Hunter, I believe the ending is what Laughton wanted.  The bad guy wasn't gonna get away.  Ms. Cooper had called the police who were gonna catch him anyway.

The tone of the film, though surreal, was REALISTIC.  There was nothing about the film that wasn't believable. There are two movies that come to mind that are kinda at the opposite extremes of this film that if they could meet in the middle, would remind me of what Laughton did.  " The Devil and Daniel Webster " starring Walter Huston and "Joe" starring Nicholas Cage.  Daniel Webster was surreal but too into the fantasy realm.  Joe's character was similar to Ms. Cooper but the film itself was more violent.  They both had elements though of what Laughton created. Laughton created the perfect balance in his film which made it all believable.  Its a MASTERPIECE.

Using religion to tell a story is not something I had a problem with...it was how they used it. I felt the handling of good versus evil was very juvenile. The film's main thesis is that people are either all good or all bad; and we know life is really NOT like that. Also the ending where good has to triumph was just way too heavy-handed.

I think the film would have been more thought-provoking if good did not triumph at the end, and we were left to ask ourselves why. How do we safeguard children against that kind of horror. But because the filmmakers wrap it up so neat and tidy in the last two minutes, we really don't have to think...we're just mollified and can go on to the next movie.

It's still a masterpiece in terms of imagery and if viewed as a fable. But the ending just ruins it for me. It's almost like if they did a film version of Red Riding Hood and because of the production code, they decided not to have the big bad wolf eat grandma...and that grandma came in at the end and blew the wolf way with her rifle. It's hokum. A more thoughtful genuinely frightening ending was necessary to make it a real cautionary tale about the dangers young children might face after the death of their parents.

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7 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Using religion to tell a story is not something I had a problem with...it was how they used it. I felt the handling of good versus evil was very juvenile. The film's main thesis is that people are either all good or all bad; and we know life is really NOT like that. Also the ending where good has to triumph was just way too heavy-handed.

I think the film would have been more thought-provoking if good did not triumph at the end, and we were left to ask ourselves why. How do we safeguard children against that kind of horror. But because the filmmakers wrap it up so neat and tidy in the last two minutes, we really don't have to think...we're just mollified and can go on to the next movie.

It's still a masterpiece in terms of imagery and if viewed as a fable. But the ending just ruins it for me. It's almost like if they did a film version of Red Riding Hood and because of the production code, they decided not to have the big bad wolf eat grandma...and that grandma came in at the end and blew the wolf way with her rifle. It's hokum. A more thoughtful genuinely frightening ending was necessary to make it a real cautionary tale about the dangers young children might face after the death of their parents.

I read a review that agreed with your feelings about the ending. Personally, i was soo terrified that the ending was a welcome relief....lol

On a side note, its interesting that the cinematographer that Laughton used is the same one Welles used in " The Magnificent Ambersons."  Without me even knowing it beforehand I felt that Laughton accomplished some things that Welles was trying to accomplish with his films. 

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2 hours ago, Moorman said:

The religious subject matter IS part of the reason that people ran from it.  The film was waaaaaaay ahead of its time.  To me, the ending was perfect.  There was a lesson there.  It FIT the film.  In " The Woman in the Window," the code encouraged Lang to put a ending in the film that felt tacked on and forced. It was out of place with the tone of the film.  In The Night of the Hunter, I believe the ending is what Laughton wanted.  The bad guy wasn't gonna get away.  Ms. Cooper had called the police who were gonna catch him anyway.

The tone of the film, though surreal, was REALISTIC.  There was nothing about the film that wasn't believable. There are two movies that come to mind that are kinda at the opposite extremes of this film that if they could meet in the middle, would remind me of what Laughton did.  " The Devil and Daniel Webster " starring Walter Huston and "Joe" starring Nicholas Cage.  Daniel Webster was surreal but too into the fantasy realm.  Joe's character was similar to Ms. Cooper but the film itself was more violent.  They both had elements though of what Laughton created. Laughton created the perfect balance in his film which made it all believable.  Its a MASTERPIECE.

I view the film as almost like two films;  4\5 noir (dark) and then the unrealistic over up lifting fable 1\5 ending part.   I do see how having these two 'parts' can be viewed as elevating the film above a standard noir film and in many ways it does,  but it just isn't realistic that the Mitchum wouldn't be able to find a way to break into the house and over take an old women (or at least try and have a shoot-out that ends with his death).   It wasn't like his character didn't really want that money!

 

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2 hours ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

I view the film as almost like two films;  4\5 noir (dark) and then the unrealistic over up lifting fable 1\5 ending part.   I do see how having these two 'parts' can be viewed as elevating the film above a standard noir film and in many ways it does,  but it just isn't realistic that the Mitchum wouldn't be able to find a way to break into the house and over take an old women (or at least try and have a shoot-out that ends with his death).   It wasn't like his character didn't really want that money!

 

He DID try and over take Ms. Cooper. That didn't end well for him...

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14 hours ago, Moorman said:

He DID try and over take Ms. Cooper. That didn't end well for him...

Yea,  I kind of misspoke;  I meant to say that his attempt was rather lame.   But hey,  he couldn't even catch a bunch of kids, so I guess he wasn't as good of a criminal as he pretended to be.   I.e.  more bark than bite (but maybe Shelley Winters feels differently,  ha ha).

 

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35 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

Yea,  I kind of misspoke;  I meant to say that his attempt was rather lame.   But hey,  he couldn't even catch a bunch of kids, so I guess he wasn't as good of a criminal as he pretended to be.   I.e.  more bark than bite (but maybe Shelley Winters feels differently,  ha ha).

 

You are not giving Laughton and Agee enough credit.  Powell's character is deeper than the surface show. He was TOYING with them.  Sure, he wanted that money but he was also a sick dude. He was enjoying the CHASE.  He was getting tickled the whole time.  The stumbling, bumbling antics in the basement for instance. Its VERY VERY  nuanced what Laughton was doing.  Powell didn't take the chase seriously until he tried to run up on Ms Cooper. By then it was too late.  

The character study is one of the reasons i love this film.  I feel its Mitchum's greatest performance.  The movie combined surrealism with nuanced reality in a brilliant way.  Theres a reason some of the directors in Hollywood come back and keep studying this film...

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5 minutes ago, Moorman said:

You are not giving Laughton and Agee enough credit.  Powell's character is deeper than the surface show. He was TOYING with them.  Sure, he wanted that money but he was also a sick dude. He was enjoying the CHASE.  He was getting tickled the whole time.  The stumbling, bumbling antics in the basement for instance. Its VERY VERY  nuanced what Laughton was doing.  Powell didn't take the chase seriously until he tried to run up on Ms Cooper. By then it was too late.  

Interesting take and NOT one I considered as it relates to Powell.   Yea, of course he was a sick dude (this was known from the start when based on his hands and how he acts in the movie theater),  but I never considered that he didn't take the chase seriously until it was too late.

Don't know if I really agree that was what the director and screenwriter were trying to communicate,  but it does get me thinking.

 

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2 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

Interesting take and NOT one I considered as it relates to Powell.   Yea, of course he was a sick dude (this was known from the start when based on his hands and how he acts in the movie theater),  but I never considered that he didn't take the chase seriously until it was too late.

Don't know if I really agree that was what the director and screenwriter were trying to communicate,  but it does get me thinking.

 

I'm no expert in what directors and writers are trying to convey in movies but I'm very confident that I know what they were doing in this one.  It was brilliant writing.  I think its one of the reasons it didn't go over well when it was initially released. You have to look INTO Powell's character...

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I recently rewatched this movie for the 3rd time, since there was an AFI screening as part of their Robert Mitchum retrospective.

I'm about in the middle of where I was in the two prior viewings, and look at now as a flawed but very memorable and striking movie. The first time I saw this movie I was lukewarm on it because I thought the ending was hackeyened and the whole darkness element of the movie--which was the best part apart from the imagery--totally got left behind. The second time the fable aspect and the imagery really impacted more and I loved it. Now...I still don't think that final 15 minutes works. It feels like Laughton lost confidence in his kid actors and they had pivot to a different direction. Somebody smarter than me is going to have to explain why all the Biblical stories and the sentimentality of the all the speeches at the end co-exists well within the movie. Since the first two times I viewed this movie, I've watched a lot more 30s, 40s, 50s movies where lynching and mob justice is also a part...and I don't know what exactly to make of how this movie kind of shoehorns that in.

I'm curious if this movie is commonly considered a film noir? To me, it's themes--especially with the ending--seem anti-noir. The whole first 2/3rds is decidely noir. But the style of it does stray some. For one, there aren't a ton of high and low angle shots, and the compositions are rarely diagonal, though they are absolutely stunning nonetheless, as is the use of high contrast lighting.

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6 hours ago, BrianBlake said:

I recently rewatched this movie for the 3rd time, since there was an AFI screening as part of their Robert Mitchum retrospective.

I'm about in the middle of where I was in the two prior viewings, and look at now as a flawed but very memorable and striking movie. The first time I saw this movie I was lukewarm on it because I thought the ending was hackeyened and the whole darkness element of the movie--which was the best part apart from the imagery--totally got left behind. The second time the fable aspect and the imagery really impacted more and I loved it. Now...I still don't think that final 15 minutes works. It feels like Laughton lost confidence in his kid actors and they had pivot to a different direction. Somebody smarter than me is going to have to explain why all the Biblical stories and the sentimentality of the all the speeches at the end co-exists well within the movie. Since the first two times I viewed this movie, I've watched a lot more 30s, 40s, 50s movies where lynching and mob justice is also a part...and I don't know what exactly to make of how this movie kind of shoehorns that in.

I'm curious if this movie is commonly considered a film noir? To me, it's themes--especially with the ending--seem anti-noir. The whole first 2/3rds is decidely noir. But the style of it does stray some. For one, there aren't a ton of high and low angle shots, and the compositions are rarely diagonal, though they are absolutely stunning nonetheless, as is the use of high contrast lighting.

I think the film loses its way at the end because someone (probably not Laughton but one of the financial backers) decided they needed a happy ending. In order for it to be profitable with audiences. It's like they were telling this very dark and twisted tale of what a madman can get away with but then lost their nerve at the end and compromised everything that came before. Gish becomes the lead in the last ten minutes, and her dominance in those final scenes with the speeches she rattles off, upends the whole thing.

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The movie does get sappy at the end with the Christmas theme and everybody is hunky dory. However I like Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper, especially in the way she deals with the teenager Ruby that contrasts with Robert Mitchum's Harry. She is very accepting of the fact that the girl has "needs", unlike how Harry treats Shelly Winters the widow mother who also had "needs". Her concern for Ruby is that she finds the "right" man, rather than just "any" man.

Let's be honest here. The movie is ALL about sex. Harry pulls out his switch blade when watching a burlesque show in the beginning, equating sex with murder. Harry resembles Norman Bates in that regard. As he tells God above "Not that You mind the killin's. Your Book is full of killin's. But there are things you do hate Lord: perfume-smellin' things, lacy things, things with curly hair." (Sadly, that is very true if you actually READ the Old Testament in particular.)

From what I gathered, Laughton wasn't great at directing kids, but Mitchum was. This is in total contrast to his character on screen. The child actors only acted "scared" for the screen, since they got along well with him off screen.

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10 hours ago, BrianBlake said:

I recently rewatched this movie for the 3rd time, since there was an AFI screening as part of their Robert Mitchum retrospective.

I'm about in the middle of where I was in the two prior viewings, and look at now as a flawed but very memorable and striking movie. The first time I saw this movie I was lukewarm on it because I thought the ending was hackeyened and the whole darkness element of the movie--which was the best part apart from the imagery--totally got left behind. The second time the fable aspect and the imagery really impacted more and I loved it. Now...I still don't think that final 15 minutes works. It feels like Laughton lost confidence in his kid actors and they had pivot to a different direction. Somebody smarter than me is going to have to explain why all the Biblical stories and the sentimentality of the all the speeches at the end co-exists well within the movie. Since the first two times I viewed this movie, I've watched a lot more 30s, 40s, 50s movies where lynching and mob justice is also a part...and I don't know what exactly to make of how this movie kind of shoehorns that in.

I'm curious if this movie is commonly considered a film noir? To me, it's themes--especially with the ending--seem anti-noir. The whole first 2/3rds is decidely noir. But the style of it does stray some. For one, there aren't a ton of high and low angle shots, and the compositions are rarely diagonal, though they are absolutely stunning nonetheless, as is the use of high contrast lighting.

Good post.  I have several observations.  First, I don't consider this the best film I have ever seen because of my trying to FORCE it in that direction.  To me personally the ending fit the film.  Second, in almost every review of the film I have read I believe the universal thought is like you said above that Laughton MAY have lost confidence in the child actors and purposely had Gish become the focus toward the end.  The reason I see no problem with her taking over the film is it FIT what Laughton was ultimately trying to convey with the film.  Powell WAS NOT gonna get away.  The theme of the film is the LOVE/HATE relationship.  In a world where hate is rampant and displayed almost exclusively as the human condition in the majority of films,  a SIMPLE act of love conquering seems out of place and maybe a little corny.   

Characters like Powell operate in the shadows.  In the public he is one way, in the shadows is where the real person is.  In the first part of the film he had to win over everybody in order to get close to the money.  Once that was accomplished he could move back into the shadows and remove the major obstacle ( the mother) to his goal. From that point on, it became a GAME to him. Its like a cat toying with a mouse.  When he eventually ran up on Ms. Cooper it wasn't just the fact she was a Bible toting, Bible quoting old lady protecting children.  The problem she posed along with the children in her care was the fact that ANY move he made at this point put him BACK into the public.  Thats why you had the mob scene.  It wasn't just LOVE or the Bibilical verses that conquered Powell, it was TRUTH. Powell had to reevauluate how to approach this now.  At this point Ms. Cooper's Power IS greater than Powell's and he knew it.  If he could've got the money cleanly at that point he would have but he knew that was out of the window when she shot him.

So, getting back on point. Laughton may have been forced to go in the direction he did with Gish but to me it ended up being the best direction to go to make his point. I think it worked this way. 

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On 5/29/2018 at 3:27 PM, TopBilled said:

The other thing is I don't like the way religious people are stereotyped in this movie. And how they are shaded to the extremes. The characters are either pure holiness or totally satanic. Like there's no real middle ground in the story. It would have been more realistic if we'd seen good and evil in all the characters.

Not to get wrapped up in modern day politics (although this film has a LOT to say that is in tune with today's political AND religious arena), but I actually like that "extremist" aspect of the movie. Hate versus Love in the "name" of religion as expressed on Harry's knuckles needs some sort of balance, because everybody displays feelings of both, with or without religion involved. Both have another word to describe them: passion.

For me, far more disturbing than Mitchum's Harry is Icey Spoon, played by Evelyn Varden. She is The most powerful character, swaying the masses one way or the other even if she pretends to be just a "common citizen" who likes to talk. She both supports Harry and then gets the mob to lynch him! One could say she symbolizes "the media" at both its best (exposing the news that needs to be spread) and worst (yellow journalism intended to push the masses only one way). Icey has an icey heart, but she is extremely authoritative and that works best with weaker souls who can't think for themselves. As Willa says "Help me to get clean, so I can be what Harry wants me to be." (Not what she herself or God wants her to be.) Icey is very strong, but she is also a predator much like Harry and the owl that swoops down on the bunny rabbit.

In a way, Willa and Ruby are much alike in that they don't feel they are themselves without a man. Icey and Rachel both understand this, but their approaches are different.

Icey says to Willa "No woman is able to raise growing youngsters alone". Obviously she has not met Rachel, who is capable of raising quite a few tykes who are not even biologically her own... and without a man present! Like Harry, Icey is anti-sex, saying that she thinks of her "canning" when her husband wants... you know. She says it is not The Lord's intention for a woman to "want that"! Well... actually it is Icey's intention. This is a major theme among many religious figures today who influence Washington D.C. decision-making since they are satisfying what they want rather than what might be right for the masses or even God.

Rachel, in contrast, tells Ruby that her foolishness with strange men merely indicates that she "is looking for love". This, of course, is "love" that doesn't just involve caring for children, but also physical "love". (Laura Dern's Rambling Rosie says the same thing about women like herself.) Rachel tells Ruby that her goal is to make her into a "strong woman", not a weak one like Willa.

Willa's own children are definitely strong, not weak like their mother. Yet ALL children, according to Rachel, are "strong". They only become "weak" later in life, something she wants to prevent all of her adopted children, Ruby included, from becoming. Culling again from the many quotes available online, "You know, when you're little, you have more endurance than God is ever to grant you again."

This is the movie's great attribute: showing how people use religion to define either their own strengths or manipulate the weaknesses of others, sometimes (as you suggest) in an almost satanic way. I do understand the basic "flaw" in its story structure, but everything that happens in the end is carefully chosen to counter what happens earlier. Even John giving Rachel an apple that he technically did not purchase with his own money or make himself, echoes how his own father had to steal but also steal to stop his children from going hungry (an apple gives a body strength).

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4 hours ago, Jlewis said:

Not to get wrapped up in modern day politics (although this film has a LOT to say that is in tune with today's political AND religious arena), but I actually like that "extremist" aspect of the movie. Hate versus Love in the "name" of religion as expressed on Harry's knuckles needs some sort of balance, because everybody displays feelings of both, with or without religion involved. Both have another word to describe them: passion.

For me, far more disturbing than Mitchum's Harry is Icey Spoon, played by Evelyn Varden. She is The most powerful character, swaying the masses one way or the other even if she pretends to be just a "common citizen" who likes to talk. She both supports Harry and then gets the mob to lynch him! One could say she symbolizes "the media" at both its best (exposing the news that needs to be spread) and worst (yellow journalism intended to push the masses only one way). Icey has an icey heart, but she is extremely authoritative and that works best with weaker souls who can't think for themselves. As Willa says "Help me to get clean, so I can be what Harry wants me to be." (Not what she herself or God wants her to be.) Icey is very strong, but she is also a predator much like Harry and the owl that swoops down on the bunny rabbit.

In a way, Willa and Ruby are much alike in that they don't feel they are themselves without a man. Icey and Rachel both understand this, but their approaches are different.

Icey says to Willa "No woman is able to raise growing youngsters alone". Obviously she has not met Rachel, who is capable of raising quite a few tykes who are not even biologically her own... and without a man present! Like Harry, Icey is anti-sex, saying that she thinks of her "canning" when her husband wants... you know. She says it is not The Lord's intention for a woman to "want that"! Well... actually it is Icey's intention. This is a major theme among many religious figures today who influence Washington D.C. decision-making since they are satisfying what they want rather than what might be right for the masses or even God.

Rachel, in contrast, tells Ruby that her foolishness with strange men merely indicates that she "is looking for love". This, of course, is "love" that doesn't just involve caring for children, but also physical "love". (Laura Dern's Rambling Rosie says the same thing about women like herself.) Rachel tells Ruby that her goal is to make her into a "strong woman", not a weak one like Willa.

Willa's own children are definitely strong, not weak like their mother. Yet ALL children, according to Rachel, are "strong". They only become "weak" later in life, something she wants to prevent all of her adopted children, Ruby included, from becoming. Culling again from the many quotes available online, "You know, when you're little, you have more endurance than God is ever to grant you again."

This is the movie's great attribute: showing how people use religion to define either their own strengths or manipulate the weaknesses of others, sometimes (as you suggest) in an almost satanic way. I do understand the basic "flaw" in its story structure, but everything that happens in the end is carefully chosen to counter what happens earlier. Even John giving Rachel an apple that he technically did not purchase with his own money or make himself, echoes how his own father had to steal but also steal to stop his children from going hungry (an apple gives a body strength).

Bingo!  In the parts i highlighted you took what i was saying to a deeper level.  Powell is a psychopath hiding behind religion.  Powell sized up the town and saw that Spoon was the one he had to get on his side because even though she is powerful in her own way she can be easily manipulated into doing Powell's bidding.  Her power can be taken in either direction, good or bad.  She can help you or hurt you. Thats why Laughton purposely had her stir up the mob who wanted to get Powell after she realized she had been played as a fool. 

Even to Spoon, religion is a tool she herself can hide behind.  Thats why she could soo easily flip either way with you.  In Powell's and Spoon's world things ARE surreal because they themselves have not matured to the level of adults. Spoon is hiding behind the title of "town matriarch" and Spoon is hiding behind the title of " Reverend".  I'm more shocked that they LET Laughton MAKE the movie more so than the ending itself.  Its a deep movie.

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I re-watched it tonight. Even though I have seen it a few times, it had been quite a few years and my memory was a trifle rusty when I commented above with such a long-winded post.

I over-did it analyzing Icey Spoon. She really isn't so much "icey hearted". However one basic flaw in the film is that, considering the powerful performance by Evelyn Varden, she is a surprisingly underwritten character. She seemed real pleasant and affectionate towards the children when she and Harry got them out of the cellar hiding. Then we don't see her until the court scene when she has suddenly morphed into this ugly hag with her hair all out of place. Her husband too is bizarre. It is as if we are missing a key scene in between showing the stages of her metamorphosis. We are watching two completely different people.

Regarding the subject of religion, one particular scene jumped out that I often overlooked in earlier viewings. Lillian Gish's Rachel pulls out the bible to read to the kids and Jon instantly leaves out the screen door. She immediately senses that the "good book" was used in a horrible fashion with him. It is a book of evil. She decides then to just tell the story of baby Moses without opening the evil book, based on just her recollections instead.

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Mitchum is absolutely fantastic.

I'd differ with you Jlewis, in that I think Icey strikes me as foolhardy influential meddler to begin with. She's far too trusting and eager to rush to judgment. She encourages the marriage of Powell and Willa Harper right away, and frequently swats aside her husband's reasonable concerns about various issues. And she encourages the union in a way where she implies staying single would be a sin and almost like the widow needs to cleanse herself of her dead husband's sin by remarrying. (Suggestively, she also basically emasculates and neuters her husband about how sex doesn't matter in a marriage during the picnic scene, similar to how Powell will more aggressively brainwash and lecture Willa after he marrys her.) Of course, rather than than undergo self-evaluation she'll rally the rob to lynch Powell vs. confront how she was partly responsible for their marriage, which I guess underscores the need to find some middle ground between love and hate, or at least carefully considering which pole to reach.

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5 hours ago, BrianBlake said:

Mitchum is absolutely fantastic.

I'd differ with you Jlewis, in that I think Icey strikes me as foolhardy influential meddler to begin with. She's far too trusting and eager to rush to judgment. She encourages the marriage of Powell and Willa Harper right away, and frequently swats aside her husband's reasonable concerns about various issues. And she encourages the union in a way where she implies staying single would be a sin and almost like the widow needs to cleanse herself of her dead husband's sin by remarrying. (Suggestively, she also basically emasculates and neuters her husband about how sex doesn't matter in a marriage during the picnic scene, similar to how Powell will more aggressively brainwash and lecture Willa after he marrys her.) Of course, rather than than undergo self-evaluation she'll rally the rob to lynch Powell vs. confront how she was partly responsible for their marriage, which I guess underscores the need to find some middle ground between love and hate, or at least carefully considering which pole to reach.

Actually we are in more agreement than disagreement. It had been too many years since I last saw this movie and my earlier post was based on hazy memories. Re-watching, I was correct about Icey being anti-sex and, yes, you are dead-right about how she puts her husband down. In fact, she and Harry Powell have a lot in common in how they take charge of their relationships to the detriment of their partners.

One big issue upon revisiting the film is that she is not as well written as I previously thought and the actress works TOO hard at her performance, adding so much personality to a rather cardboard creation that isn't much on paper. I felt like I was watching her play two separate characters early and late in the film. She certainly does NOT take responsibility for her actions, pushing the marriage despite Willa admitting truthfully that she may not need a man "so soon" after her husband's death.

Shelley Winters plays Willa as this Aztec sacrifice victim, just laying there as he slaps her and not fighting him when he yanks out his knife. Yet she is quite a motivational speaker at the spiritual shoutathon (which I bet doesn't please evangelist viewers since it portrays a church revival as more frightening than a Gothic witches' rally with flames a-brewing), so it is not like she can't be strong when she wants to be. I do get a sense that her children favored deceased Daddy so much more than her, especially in the way that Jon/John keeps reminding Pearl "how we promised him not to tell" even to mother.

I guess one weakness with this film that I also find with Citizen Kane is that the style overtakes the substance at times. For example, Willa's murder is shown in an arched-lit room almost resembling a church. As with Orson Welles' film, the visuals sometimes get in the way with the story and try to distract you when there are gaps that should have been polished more script-wise. I especially enjoy all of the impressive matte shots along the river with frogs and other critters shown split-screen with the raft. Obviously this was a reason it was done in black and white because Technicolor or Eastmancolor would show more noticeable "seam lines".

One strong aspect to the narrative is how scenes repeat themselves. We have two court hearings with the defendant found guilty with no support. John reacts much the same both times when the police strap his father Ben and his stepfather Harry to the ground, but it is interesting that he only faints when Harry is taken. Also we see apples featured three times: twice in scenes with Rachel ("get one for yourself" and at the end) and once when Harry puts a knife to his head and threatens to slice his neck like a hog at slaughter time. I wish Laughton had survived the decades so he could have provided DVD commentary explaining the "why" of such scenes.

We see the drunk boatman/fisherman stabbing an alligator gar fish dead in his boat with his oar and later he sees the dead Willa underwater as his fishing hook snags the top of the sunken car... actually I was bothered also that his character wasn't any better developed than Icey, especially since we were even provided two shots of his late (25 years ago) wife's portrait. I expected him to be more helpful of the children. Again, James Gleason is VERY good in his performance.

The story is a bit murky with details concerning the "why" Ben was arrested and hung. Did he actually kill anybody or just get caught stealing money while the murder was committed by somebody else? It is made clear that Harry Powell has killed multiple times.

Wikipedia has a good read on Billy Chapin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Chapin Too bad he didn't have an Elsa Lanchester to be married to like Charles Laughton. Ahem... we can only guess as to his orientation...

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9 hours ago, Jlewis said:

I re-watched it tonight. Even though I have seen it a few times, it had been quite a few years and my memory was a trifle rusty when I commented above with such a long-winded post.

I over-did it analyzing Icey Spoon. She really isn't so much "icey hearted". However one basic flaw in the film is that, considering the powerful performance by Evelyn Varden, she is a surprisingly underwritten character. She seemed real pleasant and affectionate towards the children when she and Harry got them out of the cellar hiding. Then we don't see her until the court scene when she has suddenly morphed into this ugly hag with her hair all out of place. Her husband too is bizarre. It is as if we are missing a key scene in between showing the stages of her metamorphosis. We are watching two completely different people.

Regarding the subject of religion, one particular scene jumped out that I often overlooked in earlier viewings. Lillian Gish's Rachel pulls out the bible to read to the kids and Jon instantly leaves out the screen door. She immediately senses that the "good book" was used in a horrible fashion with him. It is a book of evil. She decides then to just tell the story of baby Moses without opening the evil book, based on just her recollections instead.

Good post.  My thoughts on Spoon is that not having her morphed into this other person is exactly the way her character is.  Remember i said she can FLIP either way with you.  People like that don't morph.  She and Powell are the same but she isn't on the same level that Powell is.  Remember the line she made about when her husband thinks about sex, SHE thinks about CANNING. That is a Jeckle and Hyde statement right there.  She was telling you who she REALLY is in that one line.  Its the small subtle stuff that people like her and Powell say that will tip you off to who they really are.  The picnics, nice words, Bible etc. are all fronts for Spoon.

Lastly.  I don't remember the scene you described about Jon leaving the room when the Bible was gonna be read.  Thats a powerful scene that i forgot.  Thats a excellent observation on your part.  It fit the whole theme of what Laughton was showing. Thanx...

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5 hours ago, BrianBlake said:

Mitchum is absolutely fantastic.

I'd differ with you Jlewis, in that I think Icey strikes me as foolhardy influential meddler to begin with. She's far too trusting and eager to rush to judgment. She encourages the marriage of Powell and Willa Harper right away, and frequently swats aside her husband's reasonable concerns about various issues. And she encourages the union in a way where she implies staying single would be a sin and almost like the widow needs to cleanse herself of her dead husband's sin by remarrying. (Suggestively, she also basically emasculates and neuters her husband about how sex doesn't matter in a marriage during the picnic scene, similar to how Powell will more aggressively brainwash and lecture Willa after he marrys her.) Of course, rather than than undergo self-evaluation she'll rally the rob to lynch Powell vs. confront how she was partly responsible for their marriage, which I guess underscores the need to find some middle ground between love and hate, or at least carefully considering which pole to reach.

Self reflection and responsibility is NOT what they do... You just confirmed what I've been saying all along about Spoon.  She was REALLY more upset about being fooled in PUBLIC than what Powell did. That may seem harsh but that is what is really going on here.

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15 hours ago, Moorman said:

Self reflection and responsibility is NOT what they do... You just confirmed what I've been saying all along about Spoon.  She was REALLY more upset about being fooled in PUBLIC than what Powell did. That may seem harsh but that is what is really going on here.

It's not harsh at all. The movie comes after a number of films decrying mob justice and the fickleness of the mob. And at the point it does it, it's almost just another moment to hit us with how wrong she is. The movie goes out of its way to depict her as a flawed matchmaker, emasculator, and completely blind the realities of what's going on and willing to buy into whatever would make her look or feel the best, but depicts her inclinations as totally corrosive to society.

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I saw this film about 13 years ago and I really enjoyed it at the time. Robert Mitchum sure was a top-notch actor.

Personally, I think that film noir in Hollywood was going out of style around that time, so it's great that they were still able to come up with a fine film like this.

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