“Pretty Fly” | Scene from + short riff on The Night of the Hunter

I watched  The Night Of The Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton, 1955) last night for the first time in at least fifteen years. Robert Mitchum’s Bluebeard-preacher figure is the main thing that stuck with me from earlier viewings. He’s the awful, captivating, horrifying and paradoxically ever-moving center of dread in a film that is essentially about despair and hope (qualities simplified to tattoos of “LOVE” and “HATE” on his hands). Watching it last night though, I was surprised at how beautiful, even tranquil the film is at times–a kind of tranquility underpinned by the natural world’s flat indifference to humanity’s suffering coupled with Mitchum’s character’s sinister avarice. The long scene of the children escaping on the river at night, guided in part by their own music is particularly moving, a strange interplay of chiaroscuro expressionism and documentary naturalism. The voyage echoes the film’s direct allusions to Moses’ escape in the ark of bulrushes (as well as hinting at Twain’s Huck Finn). It’s a lovely transition to the film’s final third, wherein Lillian Gish’s stern but loving maternal presence overtakes the narrative. My memory had swallowed her eminence, but I don’t think I’ll forget this time that it’s her character who gets the last hopeful words: “ They abide, and they endure.”

5 thoughts on ““Pretty Fly” | Scene from + short riff on The Night of the Hunter”

  1. Not to mention James Agee’s screenplay. He was some guy, a writer, a poet, and a novelist–he could not only write “on film,” he could write film, too.

    He died much too young…and he remains the greatest and finest movie reviewer to date. Sorry, Pauline, Graham, et al.

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    1. I wonder what is so special about Agee’s screenplay? Have you read the original novel by Davis Grubb The Night of the Hunter? It IS THE screenplay.

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      1. I have not read it, but I know that Agee was a fine screenwriter. He also wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s “The African Queen.”

        Having dug deeper into Agee’s screenwriting bonafides, it appears that there is some controversy over whose screenplay authorship of “Night…” is more preeminent, Agee’s or Laughton’s himself. It appears to be akin to the historical controversy re “Citizen Kane” authorship between Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles.

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        1. Obviously I am not surprised at all and also obviously my conception of screenwriters’ “finesse” differs from yours especially when the original novels are that close to their respective films and, as in this case, so few people even know the film was based on Davis Grubb material (let alone read the book).

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          1. Well, one could also say that John Huston followed Dashiell Hammett’s, “The Maltese Falcon,” nearly line by line, as well. But–novel writing and screen writing are two completely different forms of composition. They are not interchangeable or all novelists could be screenwriters, and vice-versa. And they’re not.

            I think it’s oversimplifying when one doesn’t give the adaptor credit for their contribution, just as one does the writer of the original material.

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