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"The Night of the Hunter", dir. Charles Laughton
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
After years of seeing it quoted and referenced (including by two of my favorite comics, Alan Moore's _Swamp Thing_ and Carla Speed McNeil's _Finder_*), I finally got around to seeing "The Night of the Hunter". It's utterly fascinating. Lots of later media quote the bit about having "LOVE" and "HATE" tattooed on fingers, because it's easy to do -- but it's just one small element of the film. The things that really make the movie stand out are almost never referenced, possibly because it would be too difficult to figure out what they were.

My first impression, which on some levels stayed with me through the entire film, was that this was the least subtle film I had ever seen. There is a BAD MAN and a NOBLE BOY -- if the dialogue and costuming had left any doubt about their natures, the soundtrack makes sure to bludgeon you over the head with them, repeatedly. The acting is very broad, almost to the level of a silent film, and the camera lingers over Significant Gestures. The film is bookended by Bible stories with Moral Lessons. There's even a scene near the end with an actual torch-bearing mob! Every aspect is completely "on the nose", with no ambiguity about what it is. It totally *shouldn't* work -- yet, somehow, it does. (Of course, at initial release, both the critics and the public thought it *didn't* work, but it has lived to find its audience.)

I wonder if the director was a follower of the theories of Brecht. So many aspects of the direction seem designed to distance the viewer, to say "this is artificial, a film, a story I am telling you". Realism consistently yields to storytelling. If a dramatic shadow is called for, it will appear, regardless of light sources and optics. Discoveries happen on a strictly narrative schedule, coincidence be damned.

The sets are often very obviously sets, yet framed and filmed with a haunting beauty. One particular underwater shot is perhaps the most beautiful and poetic that I can recall. Over and over again, we see natural beauty in an artificial framing.

Though the acting and direction are done with extremely broad strokes, don't think that that necessitates boring characterization. The characters all have complex layers. Interestingly, the movie presents a wide variety of viewpoints on the nature of female sexuality, not something that you'd have guessed from a plot synopsis.

I begin to think that Laughton actually did some extremely subtle things, hiding all that subtlety beneath the apparent layers of blatancy. Highly Recommended.


* Early in _Sin-Eater_, McNeil spends almost a full page recapping TNotH. At the time, it seemed like an odd pacing blip, but in the context of the full work, it's important as both plot foreshadowing/echoing and as characterization of Jaeger.
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