photo manipulation by nacrowe
back in college i spent writing a senior thesis on BILLY WILDER, specifically his early FILM NOIR cycle of films. this was in part a compromise as my advisor originally told me that in order to write about FILM NOIR, i needed to watch a majority of the 520 films considered to be a part of the genre. NOIR films in general were a reaction to the psychic trauma and intense political/cultural upheaval that was the post-WWII period. these films examined power structures in all their manifestations, much like the ROMAN NOIR literature that inspired it, and served as a sort of existential crisis for american society to work through what society they wanted to create after such an intense overseas engagement. i got through 150 over a few months and was beginning to lose my mind.
then i saw at the suggestion of my advisor what became my favorite film of that entire genre, CHARLES LAUGHTON's unnervingly prescient THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (UNITED ARTISTS 1955). the film is a marvel.
this film specifically goes after how god, faith and country can be manipulated, how religion can be corruptly utilized for profit and to empower. PULITZER PRIZE-winning writer JAMES AGEE's screenplay unnervingly exposes the ease at which unbridled human greed can be wrapped in the sanctimonious garb of religiosity to prey on the weak, in this case children. this is the role ROBERT MITCHUM was meant to play and is his crowning achievement.
deftly shot and framed by legendary cinematographer STANLEY CORTEZ, who would later go on to collaborate with SAMUEL FULLER, with homages to GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM and their haunting use of low-angled chiaroscuro lighting, this film is a visually stunning.
this is film is also an anomaly as it marked the only film directed by notable film and theater actor CHARLES LAUGHTON, as it was a box office failure. much like ACE IN THE HOLE, it cut too deep at the heart of the american life and called into question a still taboo issue that hasn't been addressed in the era of mega-churches and televangelists swarming on unfortunates like flies on pigs in a stye. it is quite the achievement that a 60+ year-old film hasn't depreciated in relevancy one iota. sadly due to its initial commercial failure this also marks the only collaborative effort by all its principal participants, which is a real tragedy in and of itself as today this is regarded in the same breath by critics as ORSON WELLES' influential classic CITIZEN KANE.
easily one of my favorite films and should be required viewing for anyone interested in film in general. cannot overstate how great this film is.