a/perture Cinema, AFI, Amazon, Amazon Prime, Ben Harper, Billy Chapin, IMDb, Lillian Gish, Netflix, Peter Graves, Robert Mitchum, Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums, Rotten Tomatoes, Sally Jane Bruce, Shelley Winters, The Less Desirables, The Night of the Hunter
a/perture cinema, the Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables, presents The Night of the Hunter (1955), The Less Desirables Movie of the Week. The film stars Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish.
Per IMDb: “A religious fanatic marries a gullible widow whose young children are reluctant to tell him where their real daddy hid $10,000 he’d stolen in a robbery.”
In a small West Virginia town (aren’t they all?) a bank robber named Ben Harper steals (not kisses, get it?) some cash and brings it around to his house and hides it, swearing his two kids to secrecy of its whereabouts before he’s arrested. In jail, he is in a cell with Harry Powell (Mitchum), a confusing combination of money grubbing crook and religious fanatic passing himself off as a “preacher.” Powell is in jail for stealing a car. Harper (played by Peter Graves) tells Powell all about his family, their names and address. The one thing he didn’t tell was where the money was.
After Harper is hanged and Powell is released from jail, Powell comes and starts finagling his way into the Harper family’s life by making it like Ben wanted him to be with them, take care of them. After all, he was a man of the Lord, right? He also lies and tells the family that Ben told him the money was at the bottom of the river. Willa Harper (Winters) believes him and takes to him at the encouragement of the old West Virgina folk talk her into marrying him. He makes it clear on their wedding night that he’s not interested in conjugal relations with his new wife, just getting the kids, John and Pearl, raised right by the Lord. She prays that the Almighty straighten her up to please Harry.
John (Billy Chapin), the boy, is the only person in town that doesn’t fall for his BS. John tells Willa about Powell asking about the money. She doesn’t believe him. Pearl likes Powell and wants to tell where the money is. John talks her out of it. When Willa catches Powell interrogating Pearl about the money, Powell kills her at night, ties her to an old jalopy car and runs it into the river. The “old man by the river” (doesn’t all West Virginian towns along the Ohio River need an old man by the river?) known to the town affectionately as “Uncle Birdie” finds her whilst fishing.
Left to their own devices, the kids trap Powell in the basement long enough to escape town using an old skiff boat that Uncle Birdie had and guarded. They found him drunk, as he’d been thinking the police were going to blame him for the death of Willa. They spend the next day or so riding down the river in the skiff, stopping to spend the night in a barn and getting food from old ladies giving food to poor kids. They end up with Rachel Cooper (Gish), a tough old bird who looks after wayward children. What happens from there? Well, you guessed it, you have to watch to find out.
This is one of the 400 nominees for the AFI Top 100 Movies of All Time. One more off the list. Rotten Tomatoes rates it 98% Fresh with an Audience Score of 90%. IMDb has it at 8.1 stars out of 10. I get its place and how respected and lauded it is. I think it was a great film for what it is.
Lillian Gish was a great actress. Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters, I always thought they over-acted and it wasn’t a natural delivery. I mean that for everything they did. The same holds true in this film. Their acting, whilst they did absorb the part, was a little hard to get around. They’re good actors, don’t get me wrong, but their delivery, again, wasn’t natural.The two young actors who played kids, John and Pearl, the aforementioned Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce gave up acting, Chapin three years later, Bruce, after this film and that’s good because they were atrocious.
I wasn’t upset with the portrayal of the West Virginian folk as being down-homey and gullible when it comes to religion and their absorbancy of it. I wasn’t upset because that’s how they are. I’m from there, I’ve seen it. It is what it is. I get that, even if I don’t get why. To me, it is a social commentary on how religion is sometimes caustic. I think it has its place and as long as there’s a balance, I’m okay with it. Believe, but with some skepticism, don’t believe everything solely based on religious texts or so-called “morals.” It’s not the end-all-be-all of the universe. Don’t let it control your life. Use it, if you must, as a guideline. Powell used the townsfolk’s own to-a-fault faith against them.
Overall, the film was good, but since one of my favorite phrases to use for the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time is “it’s good by why is it on this list?” I think it fits here, too. It’s definitely a thriller and the story line is great, but I can’t really get into it and probably will never watch it again. I rented it from Amazon Prime, as it’s not on Netflix, currently, and despite what the pro critics and others think, I detract from them and rate this only 3 stars. Average at best.
Have you seen it? What did you think? Am I full of it (well, obviously)? What’s something you’d like to see or hear me review? Let me know.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“It’s a hard world for little things.” – Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish)