The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The stylistic film, shot in only thirty-six days - an adult story with children as major characters, was extremely unusual and unpopular for its time. It was black and white (when color was en vogue), shown in standard ratio (when theaters were showing Cinemascope wide-screen films), and it daringly portrayed a perverted, pedophile Preacher as the main protagonist - a villainous, obsessive, homicidal, and misogynous character with repressed sexuality and violence.
The high-contrast, melodramatic-horror film with macabre humor deliberately pays tribute to its silent film heritage, and to pioneering director D. W. Griffith in its style (the use of stark, expressionistic black and white cinematography, archaic camera devices such as iris down) and in its casting of Griffith’s principal protegé/silent star, the legendary Lillian Gish (in her first film since Portrait of Jennie (1948)). Told with inventive, stylized, timeless and dark film noirish images, symbolism and visual poetry, it blends both a pastoral setting with dream-like creatures, fanatical characters, imperiled children during a river journey, a wicked guardian/adult, and salvation and redemption in the form of a old farm woman, ‘fairy godmother’ rather than a saintly Bible-totin’ Preacher. In Laughton’s words, it was “a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale.”
From its start, the film is designed to have the special feeling of a child’s nightmare, including the difficult keeping of a secret, and a magical journey to safety - all told from a child’s point of view. It also accentuates the contrasting, elemental dualities within the film: heaven and earth (or under-the-earth), male and female, light and dark, good and evil, knowingness and innocence, and other polarizations including equating the Preacher with the devil. (x)