Published in 1953, Davis Grubb's Depression-era novel, The Night of the Hunter, about a serial killer preacher in relentless pursuit of two orphans in order to get a cache of stolen loot in their possession shot to the top of the bestseller list and stayed there for months. The book was brought to the attention of Charles Laughton by the actor's business associate, producer Paul Gregory. Though still in demand as an actor on the stage, Laughton's movie career had hit the skids; he wanted to make the transition to movie director. Gregory thought the book ideal for Laughton's debut effort. James Agee was hired to adapt the book, but his draft proved too unwieldy and unfilmable and Laughton proceeded to adapt the book himself, though he took no screen credit for his work.
To prepare for the film, which he wanted to exude an atmosphere of early rural Americana, Laughton screened a collection of silent films by the undisputed master of such atmosphere, D. W. Griffith – then, in a further nod to the master, cast Griffith's greatest leading lady, Lillian Gish, in an important role. Robert Mitchum was Laughton's first and only choice to play the killer preacher, Harry Powell, whose warring inner demons are symbolized by the words "love" and "hate" tattooed on his knuckles.
The released film was a pictorially striking but decidedly unusual combination of picaresque adventure, fairy tale, and psychological thriller that eluded the grasp of most critics, who voted "thumbs down." A box-office failure, it marked not just Laughton's screen directorial debut, but swan song as well. Over the years, however, The Night of the Hunter has come to be viewed as a masterpiece – filmed in a kaleidoscope of styles, ranging from expressionism to film noir to avante-garde, that is breathtakingly cinematic yet boldly theatrical, employing a marvelously intricate and evocative...Read More
Film historians have long singled out three major directorial talents from Japan: Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Yasujiro Ozu. And, at least in the West, and to almost as great a degree in his own nation, Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari) stands for the best in Ozu's nearly forty-year career, a superior example of a filmmaker at the height of his powers.
When the first Scream movie came out in 1996, it completely changed the way I watched horror films. The writing was so original and so clever that it really raised my expectations for the horror genre. Sure, I was still happy watching a cheesy B-grade slasher flick, but deep down I've been yearning for something more ever since I first saw Scream.
Ah, January. Between Season of the Witch, the DVD release of The Last Exorcism, and now The Rite, it would appear movie makers are trying to turn this quaint wintery time into “Demonic Possession Month.” Yes, winter is known as that time of year when ol’ Satan brushes the snow off his jacket and thinks about all the souls he plans to corrupt,...Read More
The Company Men reveals one of the first glimpses of the financial meltdown, begun in 2008, and the aftermath of this crisis affecting not only the lower and middle classes, but also the upper crust of society. The story chronicles Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), and his fall from corporate royalty when the recession leaves him and his family jobless. His character had gained...Read More
Jacques Tati is a national treasure in France and should stand next to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the pantheon of singular cinema comedians. That he is not known to most Americans is likely due to never making a film for an English-language audience and his very French approach to humor. In a forty year career he only made nine features, but...Read More
Sofia Coppola went for broke in her candy-colored historical fantasia Marie Antoinette (2006), the kind of indulgent spectacle a film director only gets to attempt after a significant fan base has been established and awards have been bestowed. Though dubious in its history, Coppola’s version of the French aristocracy as a girl’s sparkle-journal fantasy was a delightful postmodern confection, solidifying her footing as...Read More
If there is a candidate for the funniest closing line in cinema history, it must surely be Osgood's declaration "Nobody's perfect!" at the end of Billy Wilder's spoof on sexual role playing, Some Like It Hot. Utterly unshakeable in his love for Daphne and trusting of his passionate instincts, Osgood overlooks all, including gender.
There are those for whom Alfred Hitchcock is a "master of suspense" the premier technician of the classical narrative cinema; there are those for whom Hitchcock's mastery of film technique, of "pure cinema" as he liked to call it, amount to a species of pandering, or even of an audience-directed cruelty; there are others for whom Hitchcock's fables of emotions trapped and betrayed...Read More
Rio Bravo is one of the supreme achievements (hence justifications) of "classical Hollywood," that complex network of determinants that includes the star system, the studio system, the system of genres and conventions, a highly developed grammar and syntax of shooting and editing, the interaction of which made possible an art at once personal and collaborative, one nourished by a rich and vital tradition:...Read More