Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, and Lillian Gish star in "The Night of the Hunter"

The Night of the Hunter (1955) is an American thriller directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, and Lillian Gish.
The supporting cast includes James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce, and Peter Graves. The screenplay was written by James Agee based on the novel (1953) of the same name by Davis Grub. The cinematography was by Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons, Since You Went Away, and The Three Faces of Eve).

The Reverend Harry Powell (Mitchum) is arrested for driving a stolen car. In jail, he shares a cell with Ben Harper (Graves) who killed two men in a bank robbery. He stole $10,000 and made his children never reveal where he hid the money. Harper is hanged for the murders and the secret dies with him.

When Powell is released from jail, he visits Harper’s hometown, where he romances Harper’s widow, Willa (Winters), and marries her, all in an attempt to find the money that Ben had hidden. John Harper (Chapin) is suspicious of Powell from the start and wants nothing to do with him, while his younger sister, Pearl (Bruce) is attracted to him as a replacement for her father.

Will Powell be successful in finding the stolen money? And what will become of the children?

Charles Laughton (1899 – 1962) had a long career on the stage and in Hollywood. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and was nominated for two other Best Actor Oscars for his performances in Mutiny on the Bounty (1933) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). His performance in The Suspect is considered one of Laughton’s most natural screen performances, which is credited to director Robert Siodmak, a close personal friend of the actor. The Night of the Hunter is the only film Laughton directed.

Robert Mitchum (1917 - 1997) was an American film actor, director, and singer. His breakthrough came in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. He later starred in the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947) Crossfire (1947), Rachel and the Stranger (1948), River of No Return (1954) The Night of the Hunter (1955) Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), Home from the Hill (1960), Cape Fear (1962), and Ryan's Daughter (1970). Mitchum would remain busy until the late nineties. Mitchum is rated number 23 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male stars of classic American cinema.

Shelley Winters (1920 - 2006) was an American actress whose career in film began in 1943 and continued into the 2000s. Some of Winters’s film roles include A Double Life (1947), The Great Gatsby (1948), Winchester 73 (1950), and A Place in the Sun (1951) for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award. Winters was in demand throughout the 1950s having four films in release in 1955 including Night of the Hunter. She won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). She won her second Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in A Patch of Blue (1965). Besides her film work, Winters starred on Broadway and was a frequent guest star on popular television series and made-for-TV movies.

Lillian Gish (1893 – 1993) was an American actress; her career spanned 75 years. Gish was a major movie star during the silent film era. She was called the “First Lady of American Cinema” because she is credited with developing film acting techniques when the medium was in its infancy. She had a close professional relationship with director D.W. Griffith who directed her in some of the most famous films from the silent era including The Birth of a Nation (1915), Broken Blossoms (1915), and Orphans of the Storm (1921). With the advent of sound, Gish performed on the stage and occasionally appeared in film roles. Gish’s last film appearance was in The Whales of August (1987) co-starring Bette Davis, Vincent Price, and Ann Sothern.

The Night of the Hunter trivia

  • Later in his career, Robert Mitchum said that Charles Laughton was his favorite director.
  • The novel and film are partially based on the life of serial killer Harry Powers (1893 - 1932).
  • Elsa Lanchester suggested the casting of Lillian Gish in the role of Rachel Cooper.
  • Shelly Winters said of her performance that it was “the most thoughtful and reserved performance I ever gave.”
  • Charles Laughton’s first choices for the film’s male and female leads were Gary Cooper and Betty Grable but both turned it down.

To watch the movie on YouTube, click on the link below.

Discussion questions

  1. I categorized this film as a thriller. Do you agree with that category? How would you classify it?
  2. What did you think of the performances of the child actors? Did their performances seem natural and believable to you?
  3. Robert Mitchum’s character is one of the most diabolical in all of film. What did you think of his performance? Was it Oscar-worthy?
  4. Do you agree with Shelly Winter’s assessment of her performance?
  5. Would you recommend this film to a friend to watch?
  6. Lillian Gish is a legend among film actors. What did you think of her performance?

To join the discussion on June 5, 2023, 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a link to join the discussion on Zoom.

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