ACF Critic Series #6: Teachout on The Night of The Hunter

 

After Vertigo and Laura, Terry Teachout and I turn to famous British actor Charles Laughton’s great directorial debut, The Night Of The Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum at his peak. We talk about the consummate work of art, the craftsmanship put into a thrilling and fearful story of great moral seriousness, and many other things about the cast and crew, Flannery O’Connor, and about child actors. We talk about innocence, violence, and respectability, and how the devil can come in the clothes of a preacher. Listen to our conversation and share it, friends, and we’re always waiting for your comments!

You can always find us on iTunes, where we’d appreciate a rating/review, PocketCasts, and also Stitcher.

You can also listen to Charles Laughton’s wonderful reading, long passages, from the novel he adapted to the screen:

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There are 11 comments.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The Night of the Hunter was also Laughton’s directorial swan song. It didn’t do well with either the critics or the people who buy tickets and therefore matter.

    I love it, but the Christmas stuff at the end feels like it was bolted on, maybe at the expense of the lynch mob at the end, which seems a trifle short, and not terribly convincing.

    • #1
  2. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    How bad was the film’s reception? I first saw it in the late 1950s or early 1960s, filling up air time on afternoon television and split by commercials. Even so, it was unforgettable. Very enjoyable podcast about one of my favorite films.

    • #2
  3. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Yeah, you have to really go along with the fable aspect of the story to buy all that. In that sense, it’s a little like a Capra movie. Starts fairly wonderful, leads to terrible conflicts that omen tragedy, & then you get a happy end at the last moment. It makes a lot of sense, but it’s often unpersuasive if you look at it slightly askance.

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Yeah, you have to really go along with the fable aspect of the story to buy all that. In that sense, it’s a little like a Capra movie. Starts fairly wonderful, leads to terrible conflicts that omen tragedy, & then you get a happy end at the last moment. It makes a lot of sense, but it’s often unpersuasive if you look at it slightly askance.

    I look at most things slightly askance.

    • #4
  5. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    That you do!

    • #5
  6. jeannebodine Member
    jeannebodine
    @jeannebodine

    Another great choice. I saw it on TV with my best girlfriend in the late sixties. It was the most frightening movie I’d ever seen. Mitchum singing, Winters murdered, the kids hiding, all these scenes and more still send a cold shiver down my spine. Maybe it made such an impression because I was so young but it remains the scariest film I’ve ever seen.

    • #6
  7. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    jeannebodine (View Comment):

    Another great choice. I saw it on TV with my best girlfriend in the late sixties. It was the most frightening movie I’d ever seen. Mitchum singing, Winters murdered, the kids hiding, all these scenes and more still send a cold shiver down my spine. Maybe it made such an impression because I was so young but it remains the scariest film I’ve ever seen.

    Yeah, the movie stays with you…

    • #7
  8. Bob Armstrong Thatcher
    Bob Armstrong
    @BobArmstrong

    @titustechera Excellent podcast! Why do you think that the Cohen brothers chose to incorporate visual themes from this film into their remake of True Grit? Was it merely an homage, or did they intend to shift the story into the realm of fable as was done here?

    • #8
  9. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    The Coens’ version of True Grit is a strange, but compelling movie. It’s far closer to the sentiments & language of the novel than is the fun John Wayne version of 50 years back. But it adds corpses–it shows people being denied their rightful burial in various ways. It emphasizes that the ferocious girl’s search for vengeance must end in a pit of vipers. It’s incredibly Biblical. It taps into something very similar to the false prophet figure in The Night of The Hunter.–The same combination of Biblical righteousness & deep menace, something threatening to turn man into beast.

    This is as far as I see a connection. As for the suggestions of genre shift into fable–I see your point, but I don’t know for sure what to make of them. The Coens are big on mocking Americans for their love of tacked-on happy endings. There is much truth, if not much charity, in that judgment. But I am not quite sure whether they get it right at the end. Perhaps Charles Portis was more realistic than they were; & less histrionic…

    • #9
  10. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    The Coens’ version of True Grit is a strange, but compelling movie. It’s far closer to the sentiments & language of the novel than is the fun John Wayne version of 50 years back. But it adds corpses–it shows people being denied their rightful burial in various ways. It emphasizes that the ferocious girl’s search for vengeance must end in a pit of vipers. It’s incredibly Biblical. It taps into something very similar to the false prophet figure in The Night of The Hunter.–The same combination of Biblical righteousness & deep menace, something threatening to turn man into beast.

    This is as far as I see a connection. As for the suggestions of genre shift into fable–I see your point, but I don’t know for sure what to make of them. The Coens are big on mocking Americans for their love of tacked-on happy endings. There is much truth, if not much charity, in that judgment. But I am not quite sure whether they get it right at the end. Perhaps Charles Portis was more realistic than they were; & less histrionic…

    The first time I saw True Grit, I noticed the Night of the Hunter connection. It sent me to Google, where I found this:

    • #10
  11. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Thanks for this.

    • #11
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