Friday, December 7, 2007

Breaking the Code: The Night of the Hunter (1955) Article

I don't like my article very much, but I do really like how it looks in my spread. This is the preliminary lay out for each of the 5 articles. I like it so much that I don't know if I'll change it at all, unless my professor has some really good insight on how to improve it. Once I've finalized them I'll post them here for viewing.

Broken Code: Ministers of religion in their character as ministers of religion should be used as comic characters or as villains.

The only film the legendary actor Charles Laughton ever directed, The Night of the Hunter is an allegorical tale of good versus evil with a creepy twist. Robert Mitchum plays Reverend Powell, an antinomian and religious fanatic who is a growling evil monster that feigns to hear commands of violence and crime from the voice of God. He’s hell-bent on recovering the money his prisonmate had hidden before being arrested for robbery. His history of manipulation and corruption make him a force to be reckoned with but he is no match for innocence in its purest form: children. Its the only thing that stands in his way and he finds himself outmatched when angelic Lilian Gish as Rachel Cooper comes to the children’s rescue. Beautifully directed and stylized, the film’s creepiness stems from its characters, night time settings, tall vertical and wide horizontal shots, sharp shadows, eery silences and religious singing. The film is best known for its main character who sports the letters "L-O-V-E" and "H-A-T-E" tattooed on his knuckles. Spike Lee fans will recognize a reference to this in his film Do the Right Thing (1989).

Highly underestimated at the time of its release, this film is a classic example of allegory told and shown throw realism. This film also demonstrates the growing need for realism in film. Audiences were being wooed away from movie theatres by TV and Hollywood was in direct competition of European cinema. Filmmakers needed an edge to survive and the Hays Code seemed like a needless obstacle in their way. The Night of the Hunter approaches gritty realism in two significant ways. The first is how its not afraid to show the hideous side of death. Refusing to follow the path of many bloodless death shots of previous films, The Night of the Hunter has a truly grotesque underwater shot of a corpse that is only preceded by the a similar, but much less horrifying in Sunset Bld (1950). However, the second and arguably most defiant way it approaches realism is through its focus of the use and abuse of religion. The Reverend Powell uses his own spirtuality to do evil and in his mania believes his actions are sanctioned by God. The idea of religious authority using faith for evildoing is revolutionary for film history.


1) Robert Mitchum once said this was his favorite film to make and Laughton was his favorite director.

2) Director Charles Laughton had a difficult time with children and was helped by Mitchum to direct the child actors.

3) Director Charles Laughton was horrified by the poor reception of the film to the point where he never directed a film again.

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