There’s an overriding feeling to 1950s films that everything is happy to the point of sedation. The men have fine posture and slick hair; the women are always starched, enthusiastic and dressed for appearance; the children are trite Osh Kosh cutouts. Such play-acting is a perfect backdrop for something leery, an underexposed set-up that precious few directors back then made use of. Yet, that’s why Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955) can’t help but slip into our times as a cult classic.
As with such forgotten films that warrant recirculation, Criterion has brought the film back out on DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s a good thing (one of our staff's fave picks in this issue of Music We Like). There are remarkable things at play, such as it being the only time Laughton (an actor) sat in the director’s chair. As sometimes happens with one-offs, he made it count by forever parting ways with ordinary. It was no small feat. He got Robert Mitchum—the kingpin of film noir—to deliver one of his best performances. Some might argue it was his best work. It’s one of the reasons the film was protected by the National Film Registry.