|Harry's hand of hate.|
|Harry confronts young John.|
The Night of the Hunter is a virtual textbook on filmmaking, with sound and image blended effortlessly to create mood. Harry’s entrances in the film are accompanied by a jarring, foreboding piece of music. Even more disturbing is when we hear Harry before we see him. In one scene, his singing filters into the children’s bedroom as he waits patiently outside the front gate (almost like a predator lurking for its prey).
Laughton’s striking use of shadows and silhouettes recall the Expressionistic German films of the 1920s (e.g., The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). I suspect much of the credit for the brilliant lighting belongs to cinematographer Stanley Cortez, a skilled craftsman who labored in routine films except for this one and Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons.
|One of Stanley Cortez's haunting images.|
|Billy Chapin with Lillian Gish.|
Since Charles Laughton never directed another picture, it’s hard to gauge how much of Night of the Hunter was his vision. Screenwriter James Agee, already a renowned film critic, went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. But for all their talent, neither Agee, Cortez, nor Mitchum made another movie to rival this one. So either it was sheer luck that all the talents gelled so wonderfully on The Night of the Hunter or Laughton provided the guidance to make it work. I tend to believe the credit belongs to Mr. Laughton.