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The Night of the Hunter

USA 1955
produced by
Paul Gregory for United Artists
directed by Charles Laughton
starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, Don Beddoe, Gloria Castillo, George Wallace, Cheryl Callaway, Mary Ellen Clemons, Michael Chapin, Corey Allen, Paul Bryar, Gloria Pall
screenplay by James Agee, based on the novel by Davis Grubb, music by Walter Schumann

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Depression era Southern USA: Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) travels the countryside as a preacher, with the words love and hate tattooed on his hands to demonstrate the fight between good and evil. Thing is, Harry Powell is no preacher at all, he is a misogynist crook, a wifekiller, and a greedy thief, whose perverted mind actually tells him he is doing the work of the lord ... Eventually however, he is caught driving a stolen car and sent to prison for two months - and as fortune has it, he shares the cell with Ben Harper (Peter Graves), whom the Depression has turned into a bankrobber and murderer and who now awaits his execution. Thing is though, the loot from his last heist has never been found, so Powell figures he might as well give it a try ...

Later: Ben Harper has been executed and Powell has been released - and the first thing he does is to head to Harper's home, get friendly with his wife Willa (Shelley Winters), and try to learn where the money is hidden. But soon enough, he figures that Willa knows nothing, but her young kids John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) do ... so he gets ever friendlier with Willa and eventually he proposes to her, and since she is a single young mother, everyone in her village seems to be on his side - and ultimately Willa says yes, much to the dismay and even horror of John, who seems to be the only one able to see through Powell.

For a while, the marriage goes well, even if Powell refuses to have sex with her, and even if John disapproves of his new dad more and more, but then even Willa starts to see through Powell and realizes everything he has done was just for the money - which she pays with her life ...

In town of course Powell claims Willa has run off with either the loot or another man and gives a convincing performance as the cheated husband - but at home he now seems to have free access to the children, and he stops at nothing to get what he wants, and even threatens them with his knife. He finds out as much, that the money is hidden in Pearl's ragdoll, but before he can get his hands on the money, the kids manage to make an escape, borrow a rowboat and head downriver - with no actual destiantion actually, just away from home ...

Powell picks up pursuit on a stolen horse, but for the longest time, the children seem to be just out of reach. Then though they are taken in by benign Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), who has taken it upon herself to give homeless kids abode and something resembling a family after her own son has died. Gradually, John and Pearl open up to Mrs Cooper (though not enough to tell her about the money hidden in the ragdoll) and even start to enjoy life with her and her other foster children. Powell though hasn't given up yet, and eventually he learns about the kind-hearted woman who takes care of orphans and the like on a regular basis - and he picks Ruby (Gloria Castillo), the oldest of her kids and a girl on the verge to adulthood who has not yet learned to understand let alone control her feelings, and who promptly falls in love with him and tells him everything.

Soon enough, Powell shows up on Mrs Cooper's doorstep and claims John and Pearl to be his own children he wants to take back, but Mrs Cooper sees through him right away and chases him off. Powell though was never one to give up easily, and he soon puts the Cooper house under siege, and only Mrs Cooper's loaded gun keeps him from entering right away. Eventually he sneaks in but hasn't taken into account Mrs Cooper's itchy trigger finger, and she seriously injures him so he makes a hasty getaway and hides out in Mrs Cooper's barn - but Mrs Cooper immediately calls the authorities who arrest him soon enough. John, only now realizing that Powell has killed his mother for the money, throws the ragdoll at him so it bursts as if giving him the money would return his mum ...

Powell is tried and convicted to death, and the authorites only just save him from a lynchmob, interestingly consisting of much of the same villagers who once persuaded Willa to marry him in the first place.

John and Pearl meanwhile have found a new home with Mrs Cooper ...

 

This rilm, popular screen villain Charles Laughton's only film as a director, is nothing short of great, an darkly poetic odyssey of two children trying to evade the inevitable, caught in beautiful and impressive (if not necessarily subtle) pictures and constantly avoiding the wagonload of kitsch that seems to come natural with a story like this. Of course, the film is also carried by all-around great performances (with Robert Mitchum at his despicable best, though the villain role was an exception in the actors career) and expert pacing that keeps the fim moving slowly just like the river the kids travel on.

A masterpiece that was actually underappreciated at the time of its release.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
Amazon!!!

 

 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD