At some point in the last few years, someone brought this film to my attention and ever since I’ve been wanting to see it. Somehow I just knew it was going to be something special. Now that I’ve watched it, I’m wanting to buy it and watch it again because I feel like this is a very simple movie that has a lot of complexity just waiting to be delved into.
For starters, I’m amazed at just how dark this film is for its time. The idea of a wandering preacher who happens to be a serial killer really seems ahead of it’s time for a film from 1955. I would expect something like this to be a lot more modern given how far down the dark path this goes. I mean it starts off with kids finding a dead body! From there Robert Mitchum’s character really showed just how despicable a human being he was.
What’s interesting about the preacher is that he actually seems to believe he is sent by God. There are various conversations he has with his God as he’s driving along asking to be led on in order to continue doing what he’s been doing. So every time he comes across a new victim, it’s what he sees as a new sign to keep on preaching his gospel of theft and murder. It wasn’t exactly clear to me what his purpose was overall though. He didn’t seem like he wanted to set up shop anywhere to live or amass any kind of fortune. He simply used the money from one crime to fuel the journey to the next crime scene.
Aside from our nefarious preacher, we also had a pretty good cast of townsfolk and especially the children. The preacher gets tossed in prison with a thief that hid ten grand on his property and made his kids swear to keep the secret. So the whole story is the preacher trying to get in with the family and get that cash. The father gets executed and our preacher gets let go so that is his big chance to make moves on the widow and her children which he does. He manages to get the widow to move on and even try to take up as his protege.
The only problem is, this guy flies alone and doesn’t want the family. So he discards everything in the way of him getting the money.
From here the story goes into why its called The Night of the Hunter, which to say more would give too much away I think.
The one big complaint I have is how there just wasn’t a sense of time. I feel like we were shuffled from one piece of the story to the next without much of an indicator of how much time had passed. The preacher goes to jail for thirty days over a stolen car, and we get a look at him in there with the father of the children, but we only get a few glimpses of their interactions before the father gets executed for his crimes. Then we’re seeing the preacher show up at the family’s house. There’s a picnic where he meets the widow and a few scenes later they’re married.
A bit later a couple that runs a shop did say something had happened like a week before so there was a little mention at least. There just wasn’t anything that really gave the film a sense of time though. We do get some night scenes towards the end which do different things for a bit, but that didn’t really help the early bits. For this alone, I want to rewatch the whole thing because I may not have caught some references to day and time. For this reason alone I’m taking a point off my score. Otherwise, I feel like this could really be a five-star film and that might be the case on a rewatch.
I feel like this and Shatner’s The Intruder would make for a good afternoon of bleak, black and white darkness. Which the black and white film lends itself to some amazing visuals laid up against the backdrop of what I took to be the Great Depression. There are so many images that could be made from this and used as wall hangings or wallpaper backgrounds on a phone or computer. Living art is a good way to describe the vast majority of the visuals this film has and quite honestly I don’t think this could ever be remade with justice. This seems like one of those time and place films that had the right setting, the right cast, and the right story all put together into an amazing result.