Documentary - The Night of the Hunter
The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American thriller film directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. The film is based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb, adapted for the screen by James Agee and Laughton. The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers, hanged in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The film’s lyric and expressionistic style sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 50s, and it has influenced later directors such as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, the Coen brothers, Rob Zombie, and Spike Lee. In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.
This two-disc Blu-ray, which spans three discs in Criterion’s DVD release, leaves out absolutely nothing—short of the shooting script, which is available in the Library of America’s collection of James Agee’s film writings. There’s a fantastic commentary track featuring four of the film’s acolytes, including the movie’s second unit director Terry Sanders. They collectively strike a great balance between pedaling information and revealing their enthusiasm for the movie. If that’s not enough, the first disc also includes a 40-minute documentary assessment of the movie’s virtues and themes, and its place within Charles Laughton’s career. Vintage clips show conversations with Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, Stanley Cortez, and others, and a clip from The Ed Sullivan Show features a live performance of a scene between Winters and Peter Graves that never made it into the final film.
Speaking of things not in the final film, the second disc is devoted to a 160-minute collection of archival footage and outtakes Laughton’s widow Elsa Lanchester was holding on to. Collected into a documentary called “Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter,” the bonus footage pulls back the curtain on how an American classic came to be. Among other treats, you get to see Laughton slapping young Billy Chapin in the stomach to get him to properly convey the pain of seeing his father arrested and Lillian Gish admitting she’s afraid to appear in front of the camera again. You also get to hear Sally Jane Bruce’s original singing on the “pretty fly” song, and you come away from it all betting some of those tears in her eyes were the direct result of Laughton. In this case, the end justified the means.