Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Night of the Hunter" (1955)

"We've reached the Season 1 Finale of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" I've had a lot of fun doing this shot-based series, wherein we choose our favorite images from films though sometimes, like tonight, when we're covering the great noir THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) things haven't gone remotely as planned.

<--- This is the disc as I received it in the mail this morning for this post.

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.

"Best Shot" Friends
  • 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.
Previously on "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"


Michael said...

Mine went up a little while ago. It's funny that we would duplicate each other on a film with a nearly inexhaustible supply of memorable shots.


well... who knows if i would have chosen that one if i could have rewatched. But it is the single shot that is most branded on my brain.

seriously. I think of that movie, I think of that exact silhouette.

Amir said...

i had this idea a while ago, which is very similar to this series. (and maybe done somewhere before, i'm not sure)
came to me a couple of weeks ago while rewatching boogie night (for umm... the gazillionth time)
it would be nice to have a series on ensemble films and have everybody talk about their favorite of the bunch.
it would be interesting to see different people's take on their favorite character from a film.
(not even necassarily an ensemble film to be honest.)
the idea seems a little dry about boogie nights given how much has been written about amber waves and jack horner and roller girl, but it'll be more compelling about less discussed films.

anyway, just a random thought.

Paolo said...

'Frequent Best Shot club member.' For some reason I was thinking frequent flyer miles LOL.

Love your choice for the best shot, and how the light slices through the shadows. Your write-up is one of the best visual criticisms I've read after four years as an Art History major.

And don't worry, I'll school my friend on Lillian Gish. Birth of a Nation is screening here in two weeks. I'll miss this series, and I hope it'll be back soon.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I played, too! Sorry I'm late.

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Filme Online Gratis said...

It seems like a great movie. I haven`t watched it yet, but you`ve convinced me to do . Thanks

Andreas said...

I ended up staying all night to watch the movie and write about it. But it was worth it. This is SUCH a great, amazingly shot movie and I was happy for an excuse to watch it again.

I'm jealous of anyone who gets the chance to see it for the first time.

Andrew R. said...

It's a little too easy to pick the shot with the tattoos, so how about this one: tada.

Jason Adams said...

I am late (or am I?). Here.


JA i believe that's what we call "early" or even prophetic.

Gustavo said...

How could the Academy NOT nominate Gish for this?

Damn them.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Can't agree with you about the kids. I think they're wonderful.

Laughton had all the rushes printed and Elsa Lanchester donated them to the UCLA film library. A few years back about an hour's worth of rushes were shown. You can see and hear Laughton in them directing the actors. He and Mitchum have real and very easy rapport. And Laughton is very patient and loving with the kids.


David -- well, I'm speaking from memory. I would gladly reconsider ... damn this broken disc!

Gustavo - right?

NicksFlickPicks said...

I thought accounts of production were pretty much unanimous that Laughton liked the boy but couldn't stand the girl? Who is, from my POV, semi-competent at best, even by standards of child acting ("It's in my doll it's in my doll").

Volvagia said...

It was pretty much hated at the time. Critics didn't get it. And about Gish: She hadn't done anything major for close to a decade at that point and she was extremely associated with someone known for rampant racism. Her presence was more than likely A DETRACTOR to the movie's awards and commercial prospects on both moral and quality expectation levels. (Morals are important to the casual people, which I think most people (including, sadly, too many members of the Academy) are.) Add in the unfortunate truth that most of the people judging her were sound stars, trapped at a point that considered silents a piece of their childhood. Part of the reason the Academy hews so old in Males is because Those Are Their Friends. Women? Pretty big Creepy Old Man thing going on there. The reason Gish had no chance at all, even on sympathy, was because any interested voters would be thinking You're My Friend's Grandma. Adulation and awarding has an aspect of sexuality for many people, especially in plauditing what's in front of you. No one wants to have sex with a Friend's Grandma. (Sorry, I had to go with it, because, even though I personally don't agree with the "film voyeurism" theory (how does it explain Singin' in the Rain?), many do.)


Volvagia -- while I have always and still do believe that sexual attraction plays a part in awardage, you're very much overstepping. A lot of older women have won prizes so that can't be a reason for someone having no chance at a prize. There is no reason why Gish couldn't have been a winner based on sentimentality when so many other older women won for just that reason.

I mean if it's sexuality based, I want a recall of Tandy's Oscar given to Pfeiffer where it belonged in the first place (and during the heighth of her desirability) ;)

about the racism of DW Griffith...

I wasn't alive in the 50s of course but i wonder if our modern complaints about racism were really on their minds that much in the 50s. The reason i say this is because I am so obsessed with Mad Men and it seems to me, if that great television series is any indication that it took quite a very long while and much struggle for our modern notions of civil rights to emerge. I'm not sure i buy that Lillian Gish was a persona non grata because of her association with Birth of a Nation way the hell back in the 50s.

Mechanical Shark said...

WOW. I saw Night of the Hunter recently, and those images....whoa.


Mechanical -- right? i highly suggest visiting all those links. It's amazing how many images would feel like peaks in any other film and they're all in this one film.

SusanP said...

It is a visually stunning film. The image that stands out for the most for me is the underwater shot... sooooo creepy. Seriously, it gave me nightmares. *shivers*


yeah, i had forgotten about that one until Nick's post reminded me. shivers, indeed.