Film Response: Night of the Hunter

Topics: Orson Welles, The Night of the Hunter, Citizen Kane Pages: 5 (1830 words) Published: October 8, 2013

Film Response: The Night of the Hunter

“Now, you remember children how I told you last Sunday about the good Lord going up into the mountain and talking to the people. And how he said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’… And then the good Lord went on to say, 'Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly, they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.’ ” This opening quote by the Bible fearing woman Rachel sets the tone for the film The Night of the Hunter. This quote opens the film with a tremulous benevolence, yet there is also something sinister here, a sense that she, Rachel, is providing mercy for all the world’s wickedness, into which the audience is about to be plunged. As the story progresses, we see that this wickedness is embodied in the form of a corrupted reverend turned serial killer, the true wolf in sheep’s clothing. While spending a short time in prison, psychotic Harry Powell, the so called reverend, befriends Ben Harper, a bank robber who is sentenced to be hanged, hoping to find out where he has stashed ten thousand dollars. Unsuccessful in his attempts, Powell uses his charms to woo Harper’s unsuspecting widow, Willa, and her two children, John and Pearl, in an attempt to steal the fortune hidden by the woman’s dead husband. The only thing standing between Powell and the fortune are Harper’s children the only ones that know of the money’s location. After Powell kills their mother, John and Pearl run away and are taken in by Rachel Cooper, an old Bible fearing matriarch who takes in lost and orphaned children, and protects them from Reverend Powell. From the start, the film is designed to create the impression of a child’s nightmare, including the difficulty in keeping a secret, and the magical journey to safety told from a child’s point of view. This “nightmarish Mother Goose story,” as the director Charles Laughton described the film, mediates the contrasting elemental dualities such as good and evil, male and female, light and dark, and knowingness and innocence (“The Night”). The Night of the Hunter is based on the 1953 novel The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb, which draws from the true story of Harry Powers who was hanged in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The English actor and director, Charles Laughton, was the director of the film (“The Night”). Laughton chose to hire Stanley Cortez as the cinematographer for The Night of the Hunter because of Cortez’s mastery of chiaroscuro, the use of deep progressions and subtle variations of lights and darks within an image (Barsam 186). Stanley Cortez was an American cinematographer well known for his dramatic use of light, shade, and color. He worked on over seventy films and played a very important part in the creation of a handful of transcendent masterpieces such as The Magnificent Ambersons, The Night of the Hunter, The Three Faces of Eve, and Shock Corridor. Before he got into film, Cortez worked as a designer of elegant sets for several portrait photographers’ studios. This may well have instilled in him his great talent of a strong feeling for space and an ability to move his camera through that space in such a way as to embody it in film’s two-dimensional format. His first job in the film industry was for Pathe News. During the 1920s and the early 1930s, he worked his way up the Hollywood cameraman ladder from camera assistant, to camera operator, and finally cinematographer. He managed to work for some of the greatest Hollywood cameramen, among them were Karl Stuss, Charles Rosher, and Arthur C. Miller. In 1941 Cortez had his big chance to work with Orson Welles on The Magnificent Ambersons. Cortez’s spatial sense told him that film among these sets would be a tremendous challenge, but Welles intuited that Cortez’s mastery of studio space was exactly what the film needed. Then in 1955 Charles Laughton gave Cortez another...


Cited: Barsam, Richard M., and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film with DVD. Fourth ed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton &, 2013. Print.
Eyles, Allen. "Obituary: Stanley Cortez." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 22 Jan. 1998. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. .
"The Night of the Hunter (1955)." Turner Classic Movies. Turner Entertainment Networks Inc., 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. .
Wong, David L. "Citizen Kane Film Analysis- Critique." Word Press. WordPress.com, 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2013..
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