Sunday, 30 August 2009

There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin' things, lacy things, things with curly hair.

No 71 - The Night of the Hunter
Director - Charles Laughton

Apparently this film got such little interest that Charles Laughton never directed again, and yet, over time it has been regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. I knew nothing about it, only the iconic 'Love' and 'Hate' hands.

The hands belong to the travelling preacher, Rev Harry Powell, played by Robert Mitchum in an intense bit of acting. From the moment he arrives in the film (very early on), you can see that he is a bad bad man. He murders women because he believes God hates them. Then he uses their money to fuel his next murder. It is a very short term life plan, but he seems to be good at it. Well, good at the murdering and escaping bit... as he gets caught for stealing a car and is sentenced to jail.

We are then introduced to the children protagonists John and Pearl Harper and their dad. In my opinion, the dad is just as bad as the Preacher. He kills some people, steals some money and then gives the son (who is about 10...) the responsibility of safeguarding that money.
Considering the family NEVER use the money, and considering the amount of trouble it brings, I'm surprised they bother to keep hold of it. Sure $10,000 is a lot of cash (specially in them days) but they NEVER SPEND IT! This is a big issue for me. The Harper children have their father executed by the state and their mother murdered by a mad man. If they just handed over the money (which they won't miss, seeing as they're just lugging it about and not actually spending it) at least one of their parents would have ruddy survived. It just doesn't make sense... and as a key aspect of the film's plot, I think that that is a serious flaw.

Anyway... I'm jumping ahead of myself. I need to explain the story first.

So, in order to give a very brief synopses, Mr Harper and the Preacher meet in jail, as they're sharing a cell (you'd think that a petty car thief wouldn't be sharing a cell with a murderer on death row... but what do we know) and the Preacher finds out about the money and goes on the hunt. Stopping at nothing to get his hands on the money.

That brief synopses already shows one of the things I don't like about the story. The lazy use of plot devices, such as sleep talking.

Mr Harper manages to sleep talk perfectly coherent sentences about the money he stole and how to find it... This is what gives the preacher the advantage and lets him set off on his quest. I'm sorry... but regardless of this being made in the 50's, that is lazy plotting.

The other thing that I find very odd is the amount of trust and adoration that is instantly bestowed up on Rev Harry Powell. We do live in far more cynical and untrusting times, but the preacher is quite a creepy bloke, yet besides this he manages to get the entire town's trust in about 2 days.
I think some of this comes from him being a preacher, but this doesn't explain how he manages to marry Mrs Harper in less than a week of knowing her, neither does it explain why Pearl Harper seems so smitten with him, running up to give him a big hug every time they meet. Even at the end of the film, after the preacher has tried to kill John and has threatened Pearl - causing the two to run away and go into hiding - even after all of this, Pearl still runs up to him and gives him a hug when he tracks them down.

I just don't understand... I know that this is quite an old film but there should be some consistency. By now Pearl should be absolutely terrified of the Preacher. He has caused an awful lot of trouble.

He is, however, easily the best thing in the film. A hulking, brooding, malevolent presence with an impressive level of single mindedness. His first mission is to find those $10,000. You have to admit he has a pretty impressive detective style. He spends the first half of the film getting angry at the children and shouting "Where is the money?" and then getting angrier when they don't tell him.
Finally he finds out where the money is and the second half of the film can get away. This is where we see the true evil side of the Preacher as he tracks the children down in order to get the money. He is impressively relentless - crossing through miles of American countryside and always eventually appearing at whatever place the children have chosen to hide. He is an unstoppable force, like the T1000. Only he is also a woman hating bigot. Which makes him a bit more terrifying.

The terrifying nature of Rev Harry is what makes the film's ending so disappointing. He is shot and runs away, hiding in a barn where he is caught, arrested and sentenced to death. After such a build up in the film such a build up of the character. After portraying him as this terrifying relentless presence. It seems a shame for his story to end in such an anticlimactic way.....

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