The Night of the Hunter ★★★

The Night of the Hunter is quite a curious film. It basically operates on two different tonal levels. Obviously as a noir thriller there's the almost horror movie moments of fear, and this is where the movie really excels. The shadows are dark and menacing, the soundtrack is ominous and threatening, and Robert Mitchum's performance as Harry Powell is as mysterious and alluring as it is eerie and haunting. As a horror-spiked crime thriller it really is a forgotten masterpiece (well, not forgotten anymore, but unappreciated in its time).

The second tonal level is where the film fell short for me and where I began to understand why it wasn't understood on its release. Against the evil of Mitchum's antagonist, the film contrasts the innocence and innate goodness of children. The contrast is effective, but a lot of these moments were simply too much for me. The message was too obvious, or the sweetness was too saccarine, but in any case they didn't work on an immediate emotional level.

There's also an interesting facet of the movie which has something to say about religion. The antagonist is a preacher and often twists Christian dogma to serve his questionable morality, and I think it really gets at some of the interesting conflicts within the religion. In particular, it examines the violence of love and how an uncompromising or authoritarian approach to religion can be dangerous.

Definitely recommended to fans of Robert Mitchum or anyone looking for a unique film noir.

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