I don’t know what I was expecting from Night of the Hunter, but it wasn’t what I got. What’s there is a fascinatingly bizarre movie with weird tonal changes, a single riveting performance, and absolutely surreal scenes.
Robert Mitchum is amazing, and not just because the other performances around him are kind of wanting (the kid that plays John isn’t too bad, though Pearl is hopeless.) He enters the movie absolutely off his nut and just keeps going from there, and it’s fantastic. It’s also nice that he wastes no time in being a bad guy. We don’t have to have an extended, “Uhoh, is he what he seems?” bit because no, he’s not, and you know it and I know it so let’s not dither around. And as a bonus, he’s creepy in so many ways. His wedding night speech to Shelley Winters is scary as hell. Just a wonderful character, done absolutely right.
The movie is also interesting for the amount of just plain weirdness to it. As I said, there are some odd tonal shifts and some strange moments, such as the “Pretty Fly” song that kind of comes out of nowhere. The scene with John and Pearl in the barn and Powell on the horizon hovers on a border between amateur theater and German Expressionism and yet completely works.
This was a riveting movie and I’m glad to have finally seen it.