Poster wicked unfair to Billy Chapin
Night of the Hunter
is one of those movies I always think of as being in color and am always wrong and am always surprised that I'm wrong. Because I recall scenes — Robert Mitchum
riding a horse, singing that creepy tune in the dawn light across the horizon from Billy Chapin
's terrified vantage point; the children floating up river in the skiff — in rich, Michael Powell
y colors. And yet, not in color afterall, which makes it, to me, a fantastic movie. In fact, I am also repeatedly fooled in this way by Powell's The Edge of the World
, which is not that great, but some shots are so lovely it makes you want to cry.
There are obviously things wrong with it: the cloying little girl; having Lillian Gish
address the camera when no one else does; the frequent beating over the head with metaphors from nature; not ending when it should — when Billy Chapin breaks down under the burden he's carried and Gish carries him off; and, frankly, a good portion of the soundtrack. But so much of it is beautiful, terrifying, and dreamlike.
I watched it last night on my computer (thanks Netflix) somewhere over Denver in an airplane. We'd just passed over an impressive line of active thunderstorms and it only seemed fitting to watch an equally beautiful and terrifying picture during what I was certain were my last moments on earth. Robert Mitchum turns in one of the best representations of evil ever and Shelley Winters
isn't all that bad. Yes, she winds up under water — AGAIN — but that was kind of her "thing."
Perhaps one reason the film didn't do so well when it came out is because the trailer (thanks again, Netflix) promises it to be about the wantonness of females and retribution of many types, when it turns out to be about how very hard it is to be bound to people by blood and the awesome responsibility people have (or take on) when they decide to form meaningful relationships with one another — as a parent, a wife, a sibling, or a trusted friend.
Evelyn Varden unhinged by guilt
As meddling friend Icey Spoon, Evelyn Varden
reflects on the unhappy necessity of her conjugal responsibilities by explaining that she "just lies there and thinks about my canning." Her husband is standing Right Over There, by the way, shrugging. Clearly they're companionable. By the way, Evelyn Varden had a similar role in the more flawed, less chilling, but ever entertaining film, The Bad Seed
Varden's character goes nuts (and drunk, apparently) with the guilt of not protecting her friend, Shelley Winters, from the evil Robert Mitchum and the possible destruction of her children. See? Giving crappy advice to a friend has consequences!
And speaking of sibling attachments, my sister and I apparently share a seasonal inclination to watch The Night of the Hunter.
Here is an exchange from a blog post to my Daily Earworm
that took place almost exactly this time last year.
The original question was whether my sister recalled us having the 45 of the Close Encounters theme, which she answered "nah" and included the excellent aside, "Owl. Bunny. AAAGH." Of course I know Shelley Winters didn't drown in this film, but she was dead and under water, and that's all that counts.
Some of Shelley's Watery Graves