As longtime readers know, my favorite film of all time may be Charles Laughton's 1955 venture into the hidden parts of the American psyche, Night of the Hunter
. Not long ago, a film critic named Peter Bradshaw, writing in The Guardian
, offered up a retrospective review of this work. But he's clearly faking it. See if you can spot the "tell" (which is pretty obvious)...
Critic James Agee adapted the 1953 bestseller by Davis Grubb, inspired by the real-life "Bluebeard" serial killer Harry Powers who in depression-era America killed widows and their children for the family savings. Mitchum plays "Reverend" Harry Powell, a predatory killer, grifter, car-thief and horse-thief who believes his own god-fearing rhetoric. In the poverty-stricken south, a world of broken families and economic despair, this paterfamilias from hell finds credulous victims. He is the ancestor of many a modern televangelist and snake-oil scripturalist. While in jail, Powell hears that a fellow prisoner on death row for robbery and murder has hidden the $10,000 loot with his kids: once free, Powell sets out to find the man's frightened widow (Shelley Winters), seduce her and terrify the children into giving him the cash. Every frame of this film is brilliantly contrived, particularly the underwater nightmare at the end.
"At the end"?
I reproduce to your right a shot taken from the film's one and only underwater sequence, which is very brief and (I think one may fairly say) nightmarish. This sequence comes half-way through the movie.
The actual climax takes place in a courtroom, followed by a moving coda in Lillian Gish's home.
In his review, Bradshaw makes no reference to any aspect of the film's second half -- not even to the surreal, dream-like chase-down-the-river scene, which is usually the first thing mentioned by viewers of the movie. And he doesn't say one word about Gish's performance, which is the other thing that everyone mentions. Aside from the brief prologue, Gish appears only in the second part.
If today's film critics have too much caffeine/cocaine/meth/whatever coursing through their veins to watch a black-and-white classic all the way through, fine. But don't pretend
Robert Mitchum once said "Half the people in America are faking it." Now we know which half supplies The Guardian with its film criticism.
By the way:
Although James Agee did indeed write a
script for this movie, apparently his initial version was not used. Those who have seen Agee's first draft report that it was massive -- at least three times the size of a normal movie script (Mitchum said it was "the size of a WPA project") -- and deviated sharply from the source novel. The script that Laughton filmed is of normal size and sticks rather close to the book. Evidence indicates that Laughton himself contributed heavily to the writing.