The Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton | USA | 1955

2002 Mar del Plata
2011 Athens
2015 Syros
2017 (restored version) Neuchatel (Switzerland), New York

Charles Laughton (1899-1962) directed only one film, but it deserves lasting recognition as one of the classics of the American cinema. Night of the Hunter (1955) is at once a strikingly individual work and the product of more than one talent. James Agee’s script follows the outline of Davis Grubb’s novel faithfully but eschews any temptation to reproduce or find a visual equivalent for its lush, self-indulgent style. Laughton, in turn, faithfully follows the script, which is extremely detailed and ‘cinematic’. Full of artifice, the film is also one of the most moving the American cinema has given us.

Its power lies partly in the rich, passionate performances Laughton obtained from his actors (Robert Mitchum, Lilian Gish and Shelley Winters are all extraordinary) and partly in the intensity of certain isolated images and moments. But both of these are dependent on the cumulative effect of the whole, on unity and progression achieved by means of recurrent motifs that accumulate complex resonances. One of these is the Preacher’s song, Leaning on the Everlasting Arm, associated with his hypocrisy and with the narrow, repressive Revivalism that is part of the action’s context, but juxtaposed also with the unforgettable dream-like image of the murdered Willa in the car under water, her hair streaming out like water-weeds; and finally taken up by Lillian Gish, in one of the film’s great moments, as she guards the children at night from the prowling Preacher. Another motif is that of apples, which acquire as the film progresses the dual significance of the sin of Eve and the richness of natural fertility. The film’s fitting climax is the boy’s gift of an apple as Christmas present to Lillian Gish, and her acceptance of it – the action summing up an implied view of life more complex than the film’s deceptively ‘naive’ imagery might at first glance suggest.
-Robin Wood, Cinema: A Critical Dictionary.

More than 60 years after its initial release as a critical and commercial flop, The Night of the Hunter remains a brilliant oddity without equal. It is no more a film than a dark nightmare in which seemingly disparate and unworkable elements come together to create one of cinema’s most unsettling visions. Charles Laughton, the acclaimed English actor, directed it from a screenplay written by James Agee – one of America’s greatest early film writers – which in turn adapted Davis Grubb’s novel of the same name. Throw into the mix cinematographer Stanley Cortez (frequent collaborator with Orson Welles and Samuel Fueller) and the strong central cast of Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish, and you’ve got a bunch of fantastic ingredients beautifully managed and brought to fruition by Laughton’s direction

Read more … Robert Munro, Eye For Film, 21 June 2013.

This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction. This high-definition transfer looks notably healthy; aside from a few minor flecks. Some minor noise corrections have been performed, but the fine film grain is very much intact. There are no serious stability issues.

The monaural soundtrack was taken from the 2001 UCLA Film & Television Archive restoration, supervised by Robert Gitt and by John Polito of Audio Mechanics. This restoration was painstakingly constructed from a 35mm composite master positive, a variable-density soundtrack negative of the film’s music and effects track, a projection print, and many rolls of 35mm magnetic film containing fully edited dialogue recordings. All of this audio was digitized at 96 kHz 24-bit by Simon Daniel and Peter Oreckcinto at DJ Audio in Studio City, CA. A great deal of work was done to make sure that the audio presentation is as good as possible, and it clearly shows. The new track conveys excellent depth and stability. There is certain crispness and color to the audio that is indeed very pleasing. The dialog is also clean and stable.
– adapted from Dr Svet Atanasov,, 20 November 2010.

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