Clarky went for a change of pace this week and brought a film to the the table that I had always wanted to see but somehow never got round to. Night Of The Hunter was the only the third pre-1960s film that we have watched at Horror Club and, like The Haunting and Them, reminded me that if you put in a bit of effort, watching these old films can really pay off. Ally has for years mentioned how much he likes this film and after watching it for the first time I can see why - I was captivated from start finish. There are a lot of reasons I liked this film, which I will discuss, but it is impossible not to start with Robert Mitchum's performance. Mitchum gives a performance - as the self-styled pastor Harry Powell - that must rank as one of the best acting performances ever filmed.
Mitchum's tattooed-fingered, deranged pastor is one of the most frighteningly sinister characters in film history. He is charismatic, charming and truly twisted. He dominates every scene that he is in with his simmering, barely-controlled hate and rage. However what makes Harry Powell so chilling is the way he hides this violence and hate behind a veneer of old-world charm and the smooth talking of a con man. Throughout the film Powell manages to seduce both individuals and communities with this charm and the character stands as a warning to look for the man behind the smile. It is Mitchum's character that qualifies Night Of The Hunter as a horror film rather than a drama, and I would argue that Harry Powell is scarier than ten Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. He is the ultimate false prophet.
I was also weirdly struck by Powell's likeness to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator. This is not of course due to similarity in acting talent, but because the fear both characters create is closely linked to the sense that they are both completely relentless and unstoppable. This is really brought home to great effect when John Harper - who, with his younger sister Pearl, is on the run from Powell - awakes at dawn to see Powell's silhouette cast against the rising sun. Truly sinister.
Night Of The Hunter is a religious allegory about the danger of false prophets and the eternal battle between good and evil, and if Powell represents the evil and damaging side of human nature and faith, the character of Rachel Hunter is his opposite. Rachel represents the best of humanity and faith, in her protection and defence of the weak and her love and forgiveness. The scene where Powell and Rachel sing a hymn at each other is one of the most powerful screen moments I have ever seen. Through their singing we are witnessing a clash between the best and worst of the human condition.
Any the review of this film would be incomplete without mentioning the stunning visuals of the film. There are so many excellent shots it would be hard to pinpoint any particular scene, but by building upon aspects of 1920s expressionism and American Noir the director Charles Laughton creates a true masterpiece.