To what extent does the Mise-en-Scene in ‘Night of the Hunter’ reinforce an understanding of the film's mood, character and narrative themes?
The term Mise-en-Scene is used to signify the director’s control over what happens in the film frame. In English the phrase literally translates to “putting in the scene” (Bordwell, 2010a). ‘Night of the Hunter’ (Charles Laughton, 1955) is a prime example of a film that uses aspects of Mise-en-Scene to sway the audience’s opinions of characters and their understanding of narrative themes and to create a certain atmosphere in the film. “Although the fundamental aspects of Mise-en-Scene in both theatre and cinema are those of lighting, blocking and production design (costume, props and sets), cinematic Mise-en-Scene includes such elements as choice of film stock (black-and-white or colour, fine grain or grainy), of aspect ratio (the proportions of the screen), of framing (how much of the set or cast will be shown at a time), of camera placement and movement and of sound environment. All these elements are selected and put in place – or put in motion. (Kawin, 1992)” In this essay, however, I will be predominantly focusing on performance, set and costume design and lighting techniques from my analysis of the film.
The performance of the actors in this film, particularly that of the Reverend Powell character is one of the key elements of the film that help create its unsettling mood. Robert Mitchum’s acting is very theatrical, even compared to the typical dramatic style of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The scene in which Reverend Powell murders Willa Harper epitomizes this as he histrionically lifts his arm over his head and plunges the knife into her. This exaggerated and stylized acting is however appropriate for the fantastical, expressionist world that Charles Laughton has created, a more ‘realistic’ style would have contrasted greatly with the other aspects of the Mise-en-Scene (Bordwell, 2010b). The character of Reverend...
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