Obviously a disc cracked in half won't due for a rewatch and a screen capture. But, alas, I can't postpone the series every time "something comes up" which is roughly every week (and various other duties approach) so we have to wrap this up.
The Night of the Hunter (1955) tells the story of a criminal (Robert Mitchum) who is seeking the final resting place of money stolen by another criminal. Only his dead cellmate's children know the location so he's after them. The freaky shadowy movie was directed by the actor Charles Laughton, who was a three-time best actor nominee (see our "Best Pictures From the Outside In" episode on the undervalued Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935). It was his only feature film as director and as with most actors who maneuver themselves behind the camera after their leading man heyday, he wrangled fine work from his leads: Robert Mitchum, the hunter, and Lillian Gish, the guardian, are both completely fantastic in the movie. (The less said about the child performances --as I recall -- the better, but directing child actors is an entirely different skill.)
If the disc hadn't been cracked I would have had a chance to rescreen it but that will have to wait. Yet there is one image, I suspected would compete for the prize before ordering the disc. It's forever branded on my brain.
This is Lillian Gish as "Rachel Cooper" who will not sleep but keeps a vigil, certain that evil incarnate (Robert Mitchum) will visit her home. The image is so indelible and gorgeously lit by cinematographer Stanley Cortez (look at the sharp divisions of light complicated by the slow curves of Gish's profile silhouette... it's just stunning.) One thing that fascinates me about the image, out of context, since I haven't rewatched it in, is that it reminds us of how trustingly subservient the best actors are to confident directorial visions. You can't even see Gish's face here, but damned if her work isn't absolutely crucial to the movie's success, giving it exactly the grand maternal spiritual fortitude that it needs.
Gish had to make do with an honorary Oscar in April 1971 but if there was ever a time for Oscar to thank her for her place in film history with a competitive statue, it was arguably right here. The film received zero Oscar nominations. I can't fathom why other than that it's a harsh movie that in no way coddles its audience. Perhaps it felt entirely too mercenary for the times. "Love" we can handle tattooed on a shifty man's hand. But "Hate" on his other?
Had Laughton no mercy?
I hope you've enjoyed this series. Maybe more of you will join as participants if there's a second season? Contrary to imagined belief this blog is not powered by Nathaniel's imagination alone. That's part of it, and the imaginations of the Film Experience columnists too, but a lot of times, posts are inspired by your comments or egged on by your e-mails or generally prepared with you in mind. Be an active participant in your own Film Experience!
We'll take suggestions in the comments for Season 2 and thoughts on the series as well as, naturally, discussion of this amazing noir. If you haven't seen it, you won't be disappointed.
- Amiresque, who joins the best shot party for the first time, chose amazing silhouettes of hunter and hunted. So many great shots featured in his posts.
- Brown Okinawa Assault Incident, a frequent Best Shot club member -- thank you! -- wonders about the dimensions of Laughton's studio. How did he get so much depth? (Though his friend incorrectly attacks the great mother of screen stardom Lillian Gish for the racism of Birth of a Nation.)
- Antagony & Ecstasy celebrates this "grim bedtime story" for adults.
- Serious Film compares picking a favorite shot in this picture is like trying to pick a favorite note from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."
- Movies Kick Ass "Grimm like (and outstandingly grim)"
- Nick's Flick Picks can't choose just one which works out in our favor -- more of his inimitable cinematic observations for our reading pleasure.
- Pussy Goes Grrr "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" Mitchum is part of the landscape, an omnipresent boogeyman
- My New Plaid Pants reminds that he already covered this amazement in 8 shots. Hey, it's hard to narrow down.