The Night of the Hunter (1955)

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Photo: Lillian Gish and Gloria Castillo (Night of The Hunter – 1955)

Director: Charles Laughton

Writers: Davis Grubb (from the novel by) James Agee (screen play)

At their initial meeting, Lillian Gish asked Charles Laughton why he wanted her for the part; he replied, “When I first went to the movies, they sat in their seats straight and leaned forward. Now they slump down, with their heads back, and eat candy and popcorn. I want them to sit up straight again.” Lillian Gish feared that Charles Laughton and Robert Mitchum might be undercutting Powell’s evil.

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Photo: The Night of The Hunter (Die Nacht des Jägers), Billy Chapin, Lillian Gish, Sally Jane Bruce, Promotional – 1955

Laughton explained to her, half joking, that he didn’t want to ruin Mitchum’s future career by pushing him to play total evil, although the touches of humor in the character actually serve to play up the preacher’s essentially ludicrous and haywire psychology. And Mitchum’s borderline buffoonery makes the children’s escape and eventual triumph over him more plausible.

Robert Mitchum … Harry Powell

Shelley Winters … Willa Harper

Miss Lillian Gish … Rachel Cooper

James Gleason … Birdie Steptoe, Evelyn Varden … Icey Spoon, Peter Graves … Ben Harper Don Beddoe … Walt Spoon ,Billy Chapin … John Harper, Sally Jane Bruce … Pearl Harper Gloria Castillo … Ruby (as Gloria Castilo)

 

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The Night Of The Hunter – Reviews

EDWARD GUTHMANN, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Critic

Lillian Gish, that timeless icon of stoic purity, is perfect as the Mother Goose spinster who takes in the orphaned John and Pearl. Winters, on the other hand, strikes a false (but campy) note as gullible Willa. At a church picnic, when she issues her best line, “My whole body’s just a-quiverin’ with cleanness!” she looks as sanctified as a bulldog in heat.

Roger Ebert

The children, especially the little girl, look more odd than lovable, which helps the film move away from realism and into stylized nightmare. And Lillian Gish and Stanley Cortez quite deliberately, I think, composed that great shot of her which looks like nothing so much as Whistler’s mother holding a shotgun.

lillian gish, cheryl callaway, bill chapin, mary ellen clemons, sally jane bruce, 1955 the night of the hunter

Urban Cinefile – Australia

This “nightmarish Mother Goose tale” (as Laughton described it) is inspired by the work of D.W. Griffith and stunningly shot in the German expressionist style, with emphasis on minimum light and long, creeping shadows. Hymns are hauntingly woven into the narrative and there’s a paralysing clash between good and evil when Powell’s dread-filled rendition of Leaning On The Everlasting Arms melds with Rachel’s heartfelt and reverent overlay.

The Movie Waffler

Lillian Gish’s performance as Miss Cooper, fairy godmother to wayward and orphaned children, may seem a little sweet and earnest but it fits perfectly with the fairytale atmosphere created. If Mitchum is the Big Bad Wolf then Gish’s Granny is going to take him out with a shotgun rather than get eaten in her bed. A classic then, and one that should be on every lover of film’s shelf.

A Sharper Focus – Norman N Holland

The great triumph in the casting came when Lillian Gish, aged 61, came out of retirement to play Rachel Cooper, the quasi-supernatural heroine. She provided the perfect link to Griffith’s style that Laughton wanted so much. It was an incredibly gifted team, able to complete shooting in 36 days. All contributed, but as Stanley Cortez said, “In the end, Laughton had the final judgment”. In the prologue, Lillian Gish appears as a supernatural figure in the sky surrounded by children and stars. She is leading a Sunday School class: “Now you remember, children, how I told you last Sunday about the good Lord going up into the mountain and talking to the people.” Her preaching sets off what we will get from Preacher, and she duly warns of false prophets, using the Biblical image of a tree: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” Much later, in the finale, Miz Cooper will describe herself: “I’m a strong tree with branches for many birds,” the children she is sheltering.

lillian gish, cheryl callaway, bill chapin, 1955 the night of the hunter

Criterion Collection – David Ehrenstein

Most important of all, of course, are the portrayals of Mitchum and Gish. The screen had never seen the likes of villainy as embodied by Mitchum (not until Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet). As for Gish, she radiates from the screen here in a manner even D. W. Griffith was unable to capture.

Criterion Confessions – Jamie S. Rich

Gish is marvelous as the staunch caretaker. She and most of the older character actors really shine under Laughton’s direction.

Classic Film and TV Cafe – R.B. Armstrong

Lillian Gish brings quiet strength to her role as his eventual adversary. Just as the animals watch over the children as they drift down the river in a boat, Gish’s Mrs. Cooper guards the children (almost as if she personifies Mother Nature). At one point in the film, she even says: “I’m a strong tree with many branches for many birds.”

Lillian Gish starring in The Night of the Hunter 1955 - Promotional Photo

1954 Press Photo Silent Movie Actress Lillian Gish and Director Charles Laughton - Adv Press R.
1954 Press Photo Silent Movie Actress Lillian Gish and Director Charles Laughton – Adv Press R.

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

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