If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Hey ho, Cyrus here.
After a long hiatus from writing up reviews for the site, mainly because he found himself better things to do, like getting some lovin' (without having to give out his credit card number first) and working a job that actually pays him in money and not beer, I am pleased to announce the return of the prodigal (or perhaps, the abnormal sense of the word 'prodigious') son, Beau.
Many of you know him from the League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen podcast where he's been a member since episode #1. Perhaps some of you know him from other, less distinguished locales of which we will not speak of here. Regardless of things that the police found that they could not prove in a court of law, Beau's one of the smartest and funniest folks in the Spill pantheon and I'm glad to welcome him back to doing the occasional DVD/Blu-Ray review.
Since in the past I've often thrown him some of the hard balls (stop snickering there in the back, I see you!) that quite frankly, I just didn't feel like watching myself. This one was a tough title to hand over because not only is it a blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, but it's one of the great classic movies. But what am I droning on and on for? I'll let Beau drone for me...
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Blu-Ray)
Cyrus recently welcomed me back into the reviewing fold and shoved the new Criterion release of "The Night of the Hunter" into my sweaty hands with only two caveats: a deadline AND this one admonition: keep it funny.
So here the opening lines of one of my favorite jokes:
So three nuns are standing at the pearly gates....
Read the review and then I’ll tell you the punchline if you need the yuks because I for one am at a loss at just how to palm off a movie whose gag is a guy dressed as a Quaker having a light-hearted chin-wag with GOD about just who he should swindle and kill next.
Come to think of it, that is pretty frelling hilarious. You guys are a bunch of lemon-sucking no-hooker-killing sticks in the mud for not thinking so too.
Try this on for size: Misogynist psychotic man of the cloth cons widow into marrying him in order to gain access to the former husband's stashed loot from a robbery gone bad. Slashes the widow’s throat, tortures the kids who narrowly escape then he pursues them downriver like a very hound of the pit.
See? Add in Seth Rogen, a body waxing scene and a tub of popcorn and you’ve got the next Judd Apatow movie as far as I’m concerned.
Still, if you can’t appreciate "The Night of the Hunter", Charles Laughton’s southern gothic masterpiece, as the laugh riot that I do, at least you can take in it’s lush atmospherics, as well as Robert Mitchum’s chilling portrayal of Harry Powell. Harry is an under appreciated icon of horror, whose DNA is abundant in just about every major horror villain of the past 50 years or so, from Freddy to Jason to Hannibal to...well, just about every major death dealer short of the face huggers in Aliens. I’m pretty sure if you put Robert Mitchum in clown face he’d look exactly the way Stephen King imagines Pennywise in his nightmares (assuming King is even capable of having nightmares at this point).
Mitchum is the secondary reason that "Night of the Hunter" rises above being just another run of the mill 50's noir grifter flick. The primary is the unbelievably rich direction of first (and sadly, only) time director Charles Laughton. Laughton, more familiar to audiences of the times as Quasimodo from 1939s "Hunchback of Notre Dame" and Captain Bligh opposite Clark Gable in "Mutiny on the Bounty", made a stunning debut on "Hunter", weaving atmospheres so intense, they are responsible for the majority of the horror (in a film jammed with horrific moments). "Night of the Hunter" derives from Laughton’s own classic Hollywood horror and suspense background, which is then well laden with the southern gothic atmosphere of Faulkner, and to some extent, foreshadows "To Kill A Mockingbird" (and thankfully takes up its place beside it as a modern classic). His use of shadow alone is enough to put most of the Noir directors of the time (the height of the genre no less) to shame.
He overshadowed them.
Get it? See? Jokes.
As usual, Criterion pulls no punches in making "Hunter"s packaging and production nearly everything that even the most discriminating film junkie can’t help but adore. The first disc alone is jam packed with hours of extras, including a four-person commentary, documentary interviews with all the commentators, archival interviews with Mitchum, and a great interview with Laughton biographer Simon Callow (if you haven’t checked out his bio of Orson Welles, you should). Heck, even the deleted scene is archival footage of the actors actually performing it live on The Ed Sullivan Show. Kind of blows away the fart bloopers in "Mama’s Boy", doesn’t it?
The real gem here though, is the second disc, which features a two and a half hour documentary on Laughton as director. It’s almost heartbreaking to watch, as the great promise Laughton had is more than apparent, and his lack of other opportunities in the few years he had left in his life feel almost like a robbery.
Did I mention the dead widow and the kid torturing? Funny stuff!
Bottom line? Grab “The Night of the Hunter”. You’ll laugh and laugh. I sure did.
--CLICK HERE TO BUY The Night of the Hunter (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]