This Sunday I chose to revisit Charles Laughton’s Expressionist masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955), a film that as a young horror fan I had long avoided, assuming that because it was “old” it was not likely to be on the level with such modern horror “classics” as Hellraiser. I learned how wrong I was when I finally saw it as a first-year college student. It struck me as revelatory—but I was also somewhat confused by its stark visual texture, its weird humor, and its often jarring shifts in tone, which remain mind-boggling. I’m still not sure how Laughton and screenwriter James Agee managed successfully to infuse a Southern-Gothic horror tale with broad sentimentality and comedy that occasionally verges on slapstick (“You hit Daddy with a hair brush!”). The film doesn’t merely hold together: it’s as mysterious and beautiful as a folk ballad, especially in its last act. It occurred to me that Lillian Gish’s performance here as the gun-toting Miz Cooper (“Get your state troopers out here. I got somethin’ trapped in my barn”) might be the greatest of her entire career.
Regular readers may have noticed that things have been quiet here these last several weeks. I’ve been busy with other projects (traveling, prepping for fall courses, etc.). Moreover, this year’s crop of summer movies has been mostly uninspiring. I do hope to catch Catherine Breillat’s latest, Abuse of Weakness, which plays at the Brattle here in Cambridge in August. Other than that, my New Releases calendar looks pretty empty until fall and the ramp-up to Oscar season.