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Deep Cut DVD, Vol. I: Night Of The Hunter (1955)

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With the dawning era of unending queues on popular DVD rental sites, unlimited virtual shelf-space and DVR technology, the forgotten and forlorn films of the past are recieving renewed attention. In response, comes a new series, called Deep Cut DVD, of brief reviews of some of those gems all available for your visual consumption on shiny disc. These tidbits are meant for the uninitiated, the curious, and the seekers of new, higher and fertile cinematic grounds. Go ahead … add it to your queue.

Volume 1: The Night Of The Hunter (1955)
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters, Lillian Gish and Peter Graves

This is noted 1940s/50s screenstar Charles Laughton’s sole directorial credit and it is a dark, noirish masterstroke.

Robert Mitchum is absolutely terrifying as Harry Powell, a preacher who roams the countryside shrouding himself in strict religious adherence without tolerance committing a sharp blade against those he feels are ribald sinners. While serving a short sentence with condemned bank robber and murderer Ben Harper (Peter Graves), Powell overhears Harper sleep-mumbling about the $10,000 he had made off with, the location of which only Harper’s two young children know.

Freed from incarceration, Powell tracks down and nightmarishly ingratiates himself into Harper’s family, including marrying his ex-wife Willa (Shelly Winters), and torments the kids for the cash. Robust with suspense while compact (93 minutes), the film features some glorious, innovative, expressionistic black-and-white cinematography; if ever a film’s frames begat its emotions, this is it. It is so influential, in fact, that one of Powell’s early speeches about the famously scrawled inscriptions of “love” and “hate” on his fists is featured, almost word-for-word, in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.

Forget about the few dated moments that liter the film here and there, and dim the lights, sit back, watch, and submit.

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