Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 4/28/00
The Night of the
1955 (2000) - MGM/UA
review by Florian Kummert
of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
93 mins, NR, full frame (1.37:1), single-sided, single-layered,
Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, booklet, film-themed
menu screens, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English &
French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English and French, Closed
lad... you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you
the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of Good and
Evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain
struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these
fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to
the soul of man. The right hand, friends... the hand of love."
dren," the preacher shouts. With fear in
their eyes, the boy and his little sister hide behind the apple
barrel in the basement. Slowly, the door on top of the long, wooden
staircase opens, and the shadow of the tall man with the huge hat
creeps down the stairs. "Chill
dren! Where are you?"
This classic scene of the American cinema has inspired myriads of
imitators. Charles Laughton's 1955 thriller The
Night of the Hunter (the only film the British actor and
Broadway director ever completed) counts among the milestones of
Hollywood's film noir era. It's an odd film, hard to categorize. The
best summary is that it's a bold, expressionistic experiment in
visual and narrative presentation. Initially a critical and
commercial failure, the movie is now regarded as a masterpiece,
showing Robert Mitchum in his most powerful performance.
Mitchum plays Harry Powell, a sinister, hymn-chanting "preacher"
with tattooed hands. One has the letters H-A-T-E tattooed on the
knuckles, and the other has the letters L-O-V-E. Powell roams the
countryside, stealing and killing. This psychopath abhors sexuality
and all feminine things. He leaves a trail of dead women in his
wake. Thrown into prison for a car theft, Powell discovers that his
fellow inmate has stolen $10,000, and hid the money with his
children. After the inmate's execution, Powell gets out of jail,
approaches the dead man's widow (Shelly Winters) and, in spinning a
clever web of lies and religious hypocrisy, wins her heart and
marries her. The two children, John and Pearl, don't trust their
uncanny new father and his nosy inquiries. But soon their mother
will be dead, killed inside the bedroom (a weird, crypt-like,
triangular set design). By the way, the shot of the dead mother
sitting at the wheel of a car at the bottom of a river, her throat
slashed, her hair drifting with the seaweed, is a stroke of genius.
The children manage to escape their new caretaker, fleeing down the
river in a tiny boat, while Harry follows them along the shore. The
whole river sequence belongs with the most idiosyncratic and
beautiful bits of film I've seen in a long time.
While they are pursued by the incarnation of evil on one side, the
children eventually meet up with a human "angel", Lillian
Gish (the silent movie era star of D.W. Griffith's epics) playing
Rachel, an elderly woman and guardian of orphans. She takes up their
fight against the determined murderer, and a battle of sorts plays
out. The film ultimately ends up becoming a fairy tale in some
respects. Laughton himself has said that the film was a "nightmarish
Mother Goose fable."
The movie is masterfully shot, with exquisite lighting, brilliant
use of fore and background, and a dream-like set design. It can be
frightening and humorous at the same time. Sadly, The
Night of the Hunter deserves a better DVD treatment. The
print MGM used for this DVD displays constant specks. At times, the
full-frame picture (the film was shot in 1.37:1 Academy ratio) is
very soft, with some frames (especially the aerial shots) ending up
very "jittery" looking. The mono sound won't win any
awards either. A new, carefully cleaned print should have been
commissioned for a classic like this.
The bonus materials included on this disc hardly deserve a mention.
You get a theatrical trailer (with a scratchy picture) and that's
it. Oh yeah... a "collectible booklet" is also included,
which is nothing but two pages of production notes. No cast bios, no
commentary... nothing. I would have hoped for more.
Time has shown that The Night of the
Hunter is an exceptional film. Time will also show that
this DVD is a disappointment. That's a shame... but it's one we'll
have to live with for now.