Day 174: The Night of the Hunter 1955 + Reviewing the Reviewers

The Night of the Hunter 1955

This little film about two kids and an intruder was not one I expected to see on Top Ten Lists. It’s #63 on the Critics Poll, and #26 by Directors. I’ve seen this film several times since I was a child. It’s always been a little dark, a little disturbing, while containing a strangely charismatic performance by Robert Mitchum – not a favourite actor of mine as he always seems disconnected from everyone else – as a conman.

Not here. He’s connected and frightening, but not in a Cape Fear (1962) kind of way. He’s real, and frightening.

It’s a film, like Sunset Blvd., Blade Runner, 2001, Blue Velvet, The Searchers, Seven Samurai, Some Like It Hot and His Girl Friday, which I know well and have seen many times.

What I noticed this time, which I’ve never noticed before, is how beautiful the images are. It was always a rattling good thriller of kids in danger, whether from a man or a monster, but I had never thought of it as a film which had been masterfully directed.

The film is gorgeous to look at. Whether it’s the location setting or the interiors, the majority of shots are beautifully staged and framed.

Part of this quest to see all these films, including the ones I already know very well, within the same context of 52-weeks of watching more than 200 great films, resulted in me appreciating that almost all of them are a 10/10 for cinematography. I don’t know why I never noticed it before, but each one is – for me, so far, in terms of cinematography – jaw-droppingly beautiful. I don’t know why, but the films that are in black and white are so much richer for that fact than those in colour (with exceptions like 2001 [1968] and Blade Runner [1982]).

I wonder how much Charles Laughton was involved in the camera setups, the framing, the set design and blocking of the movements of characters and the performances by the actors.

Unlike most directors – even Vigo, they all made more than one film – Laughton doesn’t have other films with which to compare it. It is what it is. There’s no way to compare how the sets or photography and acting is or isn’t similar to how it is in other films he directed.

As an actor I’ve always considered Laughton to be very theatrical, larger than life, and sometimes over-the-top. There are many exceptions but that’s been my general observation over the years. That tendency to personal non-naturalistic acting style makes the acting in this film even more exceptional.

I wouldn’t put it in my top ten films or even my top hundred films [but if you like to rate and rank films, it is, without doubt, a **** (or *****) film)]. However, it’s excellent, brilliant, inspired and extremely well-paced.

Reviewing the Reviewers

The last 72-hours has not been spent watching films, but – a bit bizarre – has been spent reviewing the reviewers and their opinions: Rex Reed, Kael, Ebert, Crowther, Crist and Anthony Lane who were the film critics whose opinions I valued most as I was developing my own opinions. Pauline Kael, who I have accepted as the yardstick for intelligent reviews, for decades, is now under review; a review of my own. As I mentioned yesterday, Rex Reed and Anthony Lane still write intelligently, but the reviewers from the past, Crowther, Crist and Halliwell (for instance) are seriously blinkered and lacking in perception or (worse) insight.

I’m undertaking a review of the reviewers and I’m finding less intelligence than I had previously gauged (especially in Kael). The patterns of pathology of what they think is acceptable and what is not, is becoming abundantly clear.

What is disturbing is the frequency of the misunderstanding of a film’s plot, essence, or being, by beings hired to give their opinion on new films (and sometimes old films).

It’s Christmas: crack-open the Rex Reed, Anna-Maria Dell’Osso and Anthony Lane Christmas stockings: books, please!0

Three true critics who were true to Cinema and themselves, having much more than the modicum of knowledge their colleagues had.