Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Robert Mitchum’s Night Of The Hunter.
Night Of The Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum, Lilian Gish, directed by Charles Laughton, United Artists, 1955
I admit, truth admit, that given a choice I much prefer Robert Mitchum as guy who is not afraid to take a bullet of two, and gladly, from some dishy femme fatale like Jane Greer after she has led him over the hoops for a while in a film like Out Of The Past. Or as tough guy detective Phillip Marlowe not a afraid to throw his weight around a little when the bad guys try to put the squeeze on some kindly old general in The Big Sleep (1980s version). What I can’t figure, but maybe it is just a matter of taste, is him as a mad man good book preacher, who just off-handedly kills a slew of women (mainly with dough) for “god.” But maybe too that is just because I get the slightest bit nervous around guys (gals too) who have a direct pipe line to “him.”
And that dilemma pretty much tells the tale, or really the half tale, of the film under review, The Night Of The Hunter. See Preacher Man Powell, despite his apparent “credentials” is a stone-cold crazy out of the great American backwoods (1930s style) when a man could kill a few, okay, okay twenty something, women and not have a coast to coast manhunt bothering him. But Preacher Man, like all stone-cold crazies, can’t leave well enough alone and so as he is fortuitously bunked up in prison with a guy who is facing the hangman for felony murder he finds out that the guy has the dough stashed somewhere back in the hills and hollows (yes, I know, hollas) of West Virginia.
Apparently they did not have a separate death row in those days because Brother Powell is in for some chicken charge and is released shortly after the execution. Released naturally to draw a beeline to Podunk . And there he courts the widow, faux coddles the kids, and then off-handedly cuts the widow’s throat and dumps her in some convenient river. And then to the kids. But justice, very rough justice, is done in the end. End of story and time number two hundred and forty-two in film noir where we find out that crime does into pay.
I mentioned above that this was the half-tale. The other half woven into the stone-killer story is one about redemption, kind of. See the kids, knowing they are doomed if they do or don’t tell Preacher Man where the dough is, head down river, and pronto. They wind up with Aunt Betty (okay, okay, Aunt Rachael), a women who takes in the strays of great depression 1930s). So as crazy and mad as Brother Powell is Sister Rachael is the opposite, including a having a ton of folk wisdom and country goodness. So you can see where an old tough guy crime noir aficionado would be longing to see Robert Mitchum show his stuff in a less stone-crazy manner. (Although maybe some dame, some unmentioned dame, put him over the edge back in the day. Then everything would be explainable.)
Labels: the night of the hunter