the night of the hunter gets its deserve

slant magazine’s eric henderson on the deluxe blu ray release of the inimitable and deceptively unsettling adult fairy tale that makes charles laughton one of the great directors, all by itself

Few moments in movie history are as shockingly bold, and simultaneously ethereal, as the moment the newly orphaned John and Pearl narrowly escape Powell’s slashing knife and float down the river on a skiff. In the space of 15 seconds, the movie transitions between a moment of pure horror—capped by Mitchum’s hellish bellow of frustration—into a slow, starry-skied journey into an American pastoral twilight, capped by a seemingly diegetic musical number about a “pretty fly” sung spontaneously by Pearl. It makes sense because Laughton and Agee believe it makes sense, and everything in The Night of the Hunter emerges similarly with the plain logic of a fairy tale—a fairy tale whose grace notes (i.e. the near-match cut between two shots of Powell grasping for the children as they advance up the cellar stairs, the first one showing him lying belly down on the ground, the next depicting him suddenly and horrifyingly on his feet again) seem as intimate as your own half-remembered nightmares.


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