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Saturday, October 07, 2006


Directed by Charles Laughton

Robert Mitchum was a cool motherfucker who had little use for the Hollywood scene where he became an anomalous and unlikely star. In the 1940's he seemed to find a special place for his talents in Film Noir, playing the laconic tough guy with the soft spot for all the wrong ladies (see "Out of the Past" (1947) and "Angel Face"(1953) for fine examples of his knack for playing the chump). He was busted for reefer possession around this time and locked up for awhile but friends in high places came to his aid, namely the loaded lunatic Howard Hughes, and Mitchum survived. His laid back, cigarette on the lip, slow talking demeanor would be turned on it's head in 1955 with one of the hallmarks in homicidal performances, the twisted preacher Harry Powell in "Night of the Hunter". Quoting from scripture and brandishing his switchblade with equal enthusiasm he is the scariest monster to emerge on film in the 1950's. Across the knuckles on one hand he has the letters L-O-V-E tattooed and on the other H-A-T-E. I think you might guess which hand runs the show. Greedy and psychotic he is driven to get his tattooed hands on a widow's money so he murders her and, when her two children stand in his way, sets out to kill them, too. This was Charles Laughton's only directorial gig and he crafted moments of rare and unsettling beauty, especially the dead woman sunken in her car, hair flowing in the gentle current as fish glide by. Mitchum had one more memorable psycho in him, the sicko Max Cady in 1962's "Cape Fear", and would be given a fitting send-off in a small but juicy role in Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man"(1998).


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2:50 PM  
Blogger pee money said...

Great post, Mr. Refund. "Night of the Hunter" is one of my all-time favorites. I first came across this, quite by accident, as a ten year old. I skipped school one day and watched it on Bill Kennedy at the Movies. It had a deep effect on me, not only scaring the shit out of me, which was easy to do, but giving me a heightened sensibility to mood and storytelling in film. Watching it recently, I picked up on some things that eluded me as a youngster. For one, there is a clear correlation drawn between the preacher's repressed sex drive and his utter lack of remorse for his victims. I guess you could see this as the flip side of the coin from Cape Fear's lecherous Max Cady.

I am in complete agreement with you regarding the image of the children's mother submerged underwater, hair wavering in deathly repose. Its one of the most unforgettable scenes in the annals of film, bringing to mind both the Bava-directed underwater sequence in Argento's "Inferno" and the aquatic imagery often found in the works of horror author Bob Stevens. If you haven't yet seen Argento's film or read Bob Stevens, I suggest both wholeheartedly.

3:00 PM  

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