Out in cinemas on Friday 17th January released by Park Circus Films, Charles Laughton's masterpiece The Night of the Hunter is released in a glorious new restoration that brings one of cinema's most beautiful films back to the big screen. The Night of the Hunter will screen at selected cinemas around the country, but will enjoy a two week run at the BFI Southbank as part of the successful ongoing BFI Gothic film season.
Originally produced in 1955 based on a novel of the same name and adapted by James Agee (The African Queen), cinematically shot by Stanley Cortez and directed by renowned actor Laughton with Robert Mitchum in the leading role of the preacher Powell. Big things were expected of the film upon its release, however, the film famously flopped at the box office and did not reach the audience intended despite the stardom of Mitchum and the return of silent film starlet, Lilian Gish into a film role as the matriarch who overcomes Powell.
The legend goes that the poor reception for the film led to Laughton never making another film again as a director, the scars were too much for him to bear and he remained an actor-for-hire until he died in 1962, only seven years later.
Now the film is held up as a marvel of cinema; at times horrifying and yet with moments of poetic purity in the cinematography that is still and momentous in direct contrast to the maelstrom of horror that surrounds Powell; Laughton should be applauded for utilising the source material and expanding it to a wider vista of theatricality.
Garnering career turns from both Robert Mitchum and the newcomer, Shelley Winters as the naive conquest of Powell. Mitchum's performance as Powell is at turns both sinister and his famous love-hate speech as he explains the tattoos on his respective knuckles is legendary.
Many observers prefer Mitchum's role in Cape Fear (1962) as Max Cody, but without the role of Powell, Cody would not have been possible and the producers would not have considered Mitchum for the role. And without the kind of work Mitchum did by bringing a genuine charisma to such a sinister role with questionable intentions, you would not have the influence he had on the film careers of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (who did his own Max Cody in 1992).
Cited as an influence on many film-makers with the use of shadows and tone, the film itself was influenced by the German Expressionism films of the 1920s and 30s, as well as the early talkie films of fellow Brit, Alfred Hitchcock. The use of a fairy tale like feel coupled with the Southern Gothic nature of the environment, as well as the cynical attention served to bible bashers, no wonder this film could not garner an audience. Film-goers probably liked the film but most likely found it hard to categorize the movie. This tends to happen with films that are unlike anything that has been seen before, think also Mean Streets and Blood Simple.
The Night of the Hunter is re-released in a new print on Friday 17th January