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NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, a rare and unique film


FredCDobbs
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That's a nice piece of work, Fred. Not 10 minutes ago, I was explaining to a passerby why this film is as you've described it. I'm afraid it fell on deaf ears as they only recognized Robert Mitchum and knew little else. 

 

When the people who populate message boards such as these are gone, what will become of all this open appreciation and adoration of old Hollywood..

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A great film. Thanks to Director Laughton, Actors Mitchum and Gish, Score provided by Walter Schumann, and the photography of Stanley Cortez. Back in 1955 it only played for 3 days at my neighborhood theater by-passing Broadway completely. They didn't realize what they had. Time has been good to this film.

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Thanks for sharing that clip. I had heard that there was a documentary made about the making of this film, which I was interested in seeing. This clip must have been part of that documentary, right?.

 

I watched this movie again earlier today, too. It's such a stunning film. I'm kind of surprised it hasn't become one of the toppers on those various lists of greatest films, though I know it's just ignorant and inflammatory to put any film on a pedestal like that. This is just such a peerless piece of work I can't help but think it's underrated.

 

The performances kind of transcend typical acting because the severe black and white moral contrast is enhanced by the behavior of these devilish and, likewise, angelic characters. Robert Mitchum's character comes in like a nightmare over the land and carries the night with him. He doesn't seem human but more like a demon filled with an unholy passion that makes his actions frightening because they are so violently unpredictable. Lillian Gish brings the balance back with the break of day through a darkness which formerly seemed impenetrable. This film's moral divide makes itself clear like an old-world fable rather than getting bogged down in realism. It's also hard to judge it because it's so far outside of anything I could have ever imagined myself...

 

Greatest or not, it's my favorite, anyway.

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The Criterion Collection has a second disk of 2 and a half hours of "outtakes"of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. It's an unbelievably fascinating thing to watch-take after take of the exact same scene-scenes we are all familiar with.

 

It's great hearing Laughton's voice softly coaching from behind the camera....sort of like the voice of God. HE reads the charactor's lines using the emphasis he wants the actors to use. (all except Mitch) I was often struck by the boy's odd line delivery, but it's wholly different hearing Laughton saying it.

 

I wish more films had kept this sort of material-it's a glimpse into the artistry of the past.

 

I showed this to two 16 year olds that are into classic film and they were not impressed or even moved by it. While I'd never describe NOTH as "subtle", the situations were more cerebral than say PSYCHO which they loved.

 

And they both looked at us in wonder as we burst out laughing when the older lady says at the picnic, "I just sit back and think about my canning" - her husband's face is perfection!

Now THAT's clever humor in a horror film. (pay attention Tim Burton)

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I'm one of those who cannot say enough about this great movie.  Acting is superb, and the photography is outstandiing.  It's hard to believe that no one was recognized for acting when the Oscar nominations came out that year.  I personally find this movie completely flawless.  There is a book out that goes into great detail on the making of the movie.  Definitely worth checking out.

 

Terrence.

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It does seem to be one of those "love it or hate it" movies.  I love it.  But I can see where someone else might not.  It's a disturbing story.  Made less disturbing by the awe inspiring performances given by all of the main cast.  Mitchum pulls off his character as if he's been there. 

 

@Kid_Dabb:  I wouldn't worry about it, Kid.  There's probably SCORES of people, even very young, that will keep the appreciation going.

 

Sepiatone

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The Criterion Collection has a second disk of 2 and a half hours of "outtakes"of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. It's an unbelievably fascinating thing to watch-take after take of the exact same scene-scenes we are all familiar with.

 

It's great hearing Laughton's voice softly coaching from behind the camera....sort of like the voice of God. HE reads the charactor's lines using the emphasis he wants the actors to use. (all except Mitch) I was often struck by the boy's odd line delivery, but it's wholly different hearing Laughton saying it.

 

Interesting you post that.  When I watch the movie, I do hear Laughton's voice (metaphorically) coming through the film.  Some of the actors, especially the child actors, seem like puppets mouthing lines the way Laughton would speak them if he were in front of the camera.  Even the mannerisms of the cast seem heavily inspired by Laughton-- including Gleason who usually plays he-men-- he seems to have a soft Laughton-esque quality here.  And if you compare Shelley Winters' work in the picture with her other films, she seems to be much more subdued and under the spell of an influential director.  

 

Laughton was possessed with true artistic genius and it's a shame he did not direct more films.

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@Kid_Dabb:  I wouldn't worry about it, Kid.  There's probably SCORES of people, even very young, that will keep the appreciation going.

 

Sepiatone

Thank you, Sepiatone. I hope so.

 

P.S. My favorite visual in this film is, of course, the underwater body/car/fishing lure scene. This doesn't seem like much when viewed for the first time, until you sit still and watch it - it is extended just so. Eerily, I might add.

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I’ve watched the underwater scene several times and it seems to be real. She seems to really be underwater. And I notice the camera cuts happen at about the time Shelly would need to take another breath.

 

So how did they do it? They might have used an air hose, which some underwater dancers use so they can stay underwater yet take a breath about every 30 seconds. Someone hands them a hose, and they exhale and then take in some air, then the hose is moved off camera until the next time. There is a short delay while some air bubbles disappear, then the editor makes the cut so that we see no bubbles.

 

The longest single scene is only about 14 seconds long.

 

The scenes start about 2 minute and 6 seconds into this clip:

 

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I’ve watched the underwater scene several times and it seems to be real. She seems to really be underwater. And I notice the camera cuts happen at about the time Shelly would need to take another breath.

 

So how did they do it? They might have used an air hose, which some underwater dancers use so they can stay underwater yet take a breath about every 30 seconds. Someone hands them a hose, and they exhale and then take in some air, then the hose is moved off camera until the next time. There is a short delay while some air bubbles disappear, then the editor makes the cut so that we see no bubbles.

 

The longest single scene is only about 14 seconds long.

 

The scenes start about 2 minute and 6 seconds into this clip:

 

The underwater scene was shot in a tank with a dummy wearing a Shelley Winters life mask. The mask was made by the same makeup artist who had aged Charles Foster Kane 13 years before. This came from the Criterion DVD commentary on the film.

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Definitely one of those Love/Hate films.

 

So, Vautrin, mon vieux, am I correct in inferring from that statement that you lean towards the "Hate" side regarding Night of the Hunter ?

Or - and I suspect this is the more likely explanation - are you referring to this? :

 

tumblr_lo2iggh7261qi0jgyo1_500.jpg

 

 

After all, who could hate this glorious, strange, unforgettable, poetic movie?

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The underwater scene was shot in a tank with a dummy wearing a Shelley Winters life mask. The mask was made by the same makeup artist who had aged Charles Foster Kane 13 years before. This came from the Criterion DVD commentary on the film.

 

Thanks for that information. I've been wondering about it for years. :)

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A film that you appreciate more and more with each viewing.  I admire Laughton's talents as an actor and yet wish he would have done more behind the camera work too.  Mitchum's talent as an actor really comes through here.  The scene of "Shelley" underwater is one of the most incredible visual images I've ever seen in any film.

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A film that you appreciate more and more with each viewing.  I admire Laughton's talents as an actor and yet wish he would have done more behind the camera work too.  Mitchum's talent as an actor really comes through here.  The scene of "Shelley" underwater is one of the most incredible visual images I've ever seen in any film.

Did Laughton not direct again because this film did not do well at the box office?

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I loved his "iris-in", where he showed the kids hiding in the basement window.

 

That took some guts to do, since modern studios would have used a zoom lens for that, and his iris technique had not been used in at least 20 years.

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Charles Laughton took the box office rejection of this film very hard and very personally.  I can't believe that some of his peers in the film industry didn't try to give him a vote of confidence for his work.  With enough encouragement maybe he would have tried to direct again.  Its a shame that he didn't live long enough to experience the eventual praise that the film would get.

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Charles Laughton took the box office rejection of this film very hard and very personally.  I can't believe that some of his peers in the film industry didn't try to give him a vote of confidence for his work.  With enough encouragement maybe he would have tried to direct again.  Its a shame that he didn't live long enough to experience the eventual praise that the film would get.

He should not have expected a film as unusual as this one to find a mass audience. This was certainly no GOING MY WAY.

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I think the film might require multiple viewings in order to fully understand it and appreciate it.

 

I would love to see a whole long documentary of Laughton directing it. He seemed to know exactly what he wanted and he seemed to already have the entire film inside his own mind.

 

I love the way the boy actor takes Laughton's rather rough directing without getting upset and trying to do what Laughton wanted him to do. The kid was a real pro as an actor.

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ab35bb7efb7f6c8e00642a6782297cb1.jpg

Even though the composition is very different, the underwater

scene of Shelley Winters in the car sometimes makes me

think of Millais' Ophelia.

 

Yeah, I see what you mean. A dead drowned lady floating peacefully in the water, (Ophelia above, Shelley W. below), with her long hair waving gracefully in the current. And in both images, the body of water is a river (not a lake or the sea.)

 

 

 

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Thanks for the clip; it was very interesting. Someone mentioned a documentary about the film--I'd love to see that.

 

A weird thought occured to me as I was reading the comments. Someone said that there was a very sharp contrast between good and evil int he film. And to a certain point that's true, especially when you take into consideration Mitchum/Gish as representatives of good and evil (made me think of Stephen King's book The Stand, with Evil represented by a dark man and good by a sweet, yet formidible old lady--wonder of King saw this film?) But many of the other characters are a complete mix--there's the dad, who loves his family, yet robbed and killed someone; the Uncle, who while he loves the boy, is a hopeless drunk who is useless when the kid really needs him; the townsfolk, who welcome Winters and her children and accept them despite their circumstances (which isn't always the case) but who are completely taken in by Mitchum's character. 

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Text from James Agee's script:

 

CLOSE UNDERWATER SHOT (Tank)

We PAN, with slowly streaming weeds, and bring in WILLA in close profile; the current, coming from behind her, drifts her long hair across her throat.

 

MEDIUM SHOT -- WILLA AND CAR

She is in profile as before--

 

CLOSE SHOT -- BAITED HOOK

It descends, and catches on the windshield, and the line tautens, then tugs. We start to follow the line up.

 

CLOSE SHOT -- ABOVE WATER -- THE LINE

We continue to follow the line up, and bring in, close, the stern of BEN HARPER's skiff.

 

MEDIUM SHOT -- UNCLE BIRDIE

He sits back, tugging unconcernedly at the line.  Then he leans over to see what's wrong.

 

CLOSE SHOT -- BIRDIE

...as he peers over side.

 

DOWNSHOT -- FULL SHOT OF CAR AND WILLA; BIRDIE'S VIEWPOINT

 

CLOSE SHOT -- BIRDIE, HORROR-STRICKEN

 

MOVING UNDERWATER SHOT -- WILLA

We hear PREACHER's voice o.s., singing:

 

PREACHER (o.s.) Leaning! Leaning! Safe and secure from all alarms!

 

Meanwhile we move vertically DOWNWARD TOWARDS HER FACE, serene in death. We may or may not glimpse the gashed throat, through drifting hair. 

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What makes it all even more horrific and sad is that poor old Shelley had been anticipating a night of good old fashioned innocent just-married sex, and is made to feel foolish and disgusting for such hopes. Just before she gets killed, that is.

This is part of what makes Mitch's character such a bizarre and incomprehensible person. He's all messed up about sex, thinks it's "an abomination". There are those scenes near the film's beginning that show him attending some "girly" strip revue; the camera pans in on a close-up of his face, and he looks both fascinated and repelled by what he sees.

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This is part of what makes Mitch's character such a bizarre and incomprehensible person. He's all messed up about sex, thinks it's "an abomination". There are those scenes near the film's beginning that show him attending some "girly" strip revue; the camera pans in on a close-up of his face, and he looks both fascinated and repelled by what he sees.


How could you forget the knife that pops up? It's funny & chilling at the same time.

 

Shelly Winters was such a good actress, but she was always being killed off-this film, PLACE IN THE SUN even LOLITA. She was so good at being the whiney & needy woman.

 

In the Criterion "outtakes" the most fascinating segment is the scenes of the original actor playing the drunk fisherman discovering her body. His performance is acceptable because we're involved in the story.

 

Then you see James Gleason take over and those scenes are not simply "acceptable", but become REAL.

While most of us just adore James Gleason, you don't realize his incredible acting talent until comparing those scenes. He is truly amazing.

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How could you forget the knife that pops up? It's funny & chilling at the same time.

 

 

How could I, indeed ! It's what makes the scene so creepy, so "funny and chilling" as you aptly put it. I do not know why I forget the bit about the knife, it says so much about this psychotic character. Thanks for pointing it out.

 

I agree with your observations about Shelley Winters. And James Gleason.

 

Oh, Uncle Birdie, why did you have to be drunk just when those kids needed you so much ! ?

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