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The Night of the Hunter(1955)
In 1930s rural American South, psychopathic preacher Harry Powell is arrested for a minor offence. His cell mate, Ben Harper, facing the death penalty, confides that he has hidden $10,000 from a bank robbery. When Powell is released, he tracks down Harper's widow and children in an attempt to get his hands on the loot.
For more about The Night of the Hunter and the The Night of the Hunter Blu-ray release, see the The Night of the Hunter Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on November 20, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Director: Charles Laughton
Writer: James Agee
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves
» See full cast & crew
The Night of the Hunter Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, November 20, 2010
Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" (1955) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on this release include the documentary film "Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter"; video introduction to the film by film archivist Robert Gitt and film critic Leonard Maltin; exclusive interview with writer Simon Callow; interview with director of photography Stanley Cortez; Davis Grubb sketches; the film's original theatrical trailer; and more. The release also arrives with a 30-page illustrated booklet. In English, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
The great British actor Charles Laughton directed only one film - The Night of the Hunter. It was a commercial and critical failure, but today it is regarded by many as one of the greatest American horror films ever made. Sadly, Laughton was so profoundly disappointed by its poor reception that he never directed again.
The story of the The Night of the Hunter is set during the Great Depression, and it is about the three infamous American obsessions – religion, sex, and money. The great Robert Mitchum plays Harry Powell, a serial killer on the loose, who is arrested for stealing a car and thrown in jail. His cellmate, Ben Harper (Peter Graves, It Conquered the World ), a bank robber and also a killer who is soon to be hanged, shares with him that he has stolen $10,000 and that only his children know where the money is hidden. Harry cannot believe his luck.
A few days after Ben is hanged, Harry is released from jail. Pretending to be a traveling preacher, he heads straight to Ben's home. He immediately befriends his beautiful widow, Willa (Shelley Winters, The Diary of Anne Frank), who shortly after that agrees to marry him. Ben's children, John (Billy Chapin, Tension at Table Rock) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), however, are not as impressed with the preacher as is their mother.
The children refuse to reveal where the money is hidden and Harry goes berserk. Eventually, he kills Willa, and goes after the children, but they run away and end up in the home of an old, religious and remarkably feisty woman, Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish, Duel in the Sun), who knows how to use a good rifle.
A couple of years before The Night of the Hunter was filmed, Mitchum was arrested for possession of marijuana and sent to jail. By the time he was released, he had officially become Hollywood's bad boy extraordinaire. The media followed him everywhere because there was always something juicy to report. Laughton took a risk with him, but there is absolutely no doubt that he could not have picked up a better actor to play the shady preacher. Some of the best scenes in The Night of the Hunter are the ones where the camera studies Mitchum's face. Then there is that incredible voice, sweet yet so disturbing!
There is a lot of talk about God, love and hate (both LOVE and HATE tattooed on the backs of the preacher's fingers) in The Night of the Hunter, and there are hidden messages about each that are remarkably bold in tone. Brilliant questions and answers are exchanged in a manner that reveals plenty about the corrupted by prejudice and superstition life in America in the mid-twentieth-century.
Visually, The Night of the Hunter is a marvel. Director of photography Stanley Cortez's (The Magnificent Ambersons, The Naked Kiss) lensing is inspired and uncharacteristically beautiful. He treats light and shadow in a way that creates an impressive gothic-noirish atmosphere that greatly enhances the narrative.
The Night of the Hunter is based on the novel of the same name by Davis Grubb. Laughton and Pulitzer Prize winning author James Agee, who also produced the script for John Huston's The African Queen (1951), adapted it for the big screen.
The Night of the Hunter Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.67:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Telecine suervisors: Robert Gitt, Lee Kline, Nancy Mysel.
Telecine colorist: Gregg Garvin/Modern Videofilm, Los Angeles.
2K scanning: Chris Arreola, Alex Hernandez, Greg Rodin, Derrick Quarles/Sony Colorworks, Los Angeles."
This is an impressive high-definition transfer. A quick comparison with the old R1 MGM SDVD release of The Night of the Hunter immediately reveals a number of dramatic improvements in practically all areas that we typically analyze in our reviews - from detail and clarity to contrast and color reproduction. This high-definition transfer also looks notably healthy; aside from a few minor flecks, I did not see any annoying cuts, warps, or jitter to report in this review. Edge-enhancement, macroblocking, and compression artifacts are also not a serious issues of concern. Also, some minor noise corrections have been performed, but the fine film grain is very much intact. Lastly, I also must note that there are no serious stability issues. All in all, this Blu-ray release represents a very fine upgrade of a terrific film. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
The Night of the Hunter Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The monaural soundtrack was taken from the 2001 UCLA Film & Television Archive restoration, supervised by Robert Gitt and by John Polito of Audio Mechanics. This restoration was painstakingly constructed from a 35mm composite master positive, a variable-density soundtrack negative of the film's music and effects track, a projection print, and many rolls of 35mm magnetic film containing fully edited dialogue recordings. All of this audio was digitized at 96 kHz 24-bit by Simon Daniel and Peter Oreckcinto at DJ Audio in Studio City, CA. Additional restoration was performed by Criterion using Pro Tools HD."
A great deal of work was done to make sure that the audio presentation is as good as possible, and it clearly shows. The new English LPCM 1.0 track conveys excellent depth and stability that will undoubtedly impress those of you who own the old R1 SDVD release of Night of the Hunter and can compare it with Criterion's Blu-ray release. There is certain crispness and color to the audio that is indeed very pleasing. The dialog is also clean and stable. Lastly, I did not detect any pops, cracks, hissings, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
The Night of the Hunter Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Making of "The Night of the Hunter - an informative documentary that explores the production history of The Night of the Hunter. With the participation of producer Paul Gregory, second-unit director Terry Sanders, and authors Preston Neal Jones, F.X. Feeney, and Jeffrey Couchman. In English, not subtitled. (38 min, 1080i).
Simon Callow on Charles Laughton - in this exclusive interview, shot in 2010 in London, Simon Callow, author of Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor, discusses Charles Laughton's life and career. In English, not subtitled. (11 min, 1080p).
Moving Pictures - a fifteen-minute documentary on The Night of the Hunter, originally broadcast on February 19, 1995, which features interviews with producer Paul Gregory, actors Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, and Lillian Gish, editor Robert Golden, art director Hilyard Brown, director of photography Stanley Cortez, and second-unit director Terry Sanders. In English, not subtitled. (15 min, 1080i).
The Ed Sullivan Show - an excerpt from an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, from September 25, 1955, in which Peter Graves and Shelley Winters perform a scene that does not appear in the final version of The Night of the Hunter. In English, not subtitled. (4 min, 1080i).
Stanley Cortez - an interview, shot at the American Society of Cinematographers in 1984, in which director of photography Stanley Cortez discusses his work on The Night of the Hunter. In French and English, with optional English subtitles where necessary, and imposed French subtitles. (13 min, 1080i).
Davis Grubb Sketches - a collection of sketches. (1080p).
Theatrical Trailer - the original trailer for The Night of the Hunter. In English, not subtitled. (2 min, 1080p).
Commentary - a very informative commentary in which second-unit director Terry Sanders, film archivist Robert Gitt, film critic F.X. Feeney, and Preston Neal Jones, author of Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of "The Night of the Hunter" discuss the production history of The Night of the Hunter, its reception and restoration, the film's message, Charles Laughton's fascinating life and career, etc.
Introduction - a wonderful and illuminating conversation, recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2010, with film archivist Robert Gitt and film critic Leonard Maltin. The two gentlemen discuss the discovery and preservation of the material used to make Charles Laughton Directs "The Night of the Hunter", as well as their first impression of the film when they first saw it years ago. In English, not subtitled. (17 min, 1080p).
Charles Laughton Directs "The Night of the Hunter" - a fascinating, two-and-a-half-hour film that contains an enormous amount of outtakes and behind the scenes footage from the production of The Night of the Hunter. The film also contains plenty of information about Charles Laughton's life and career. In English, not subtitled. (159 min, 1080p).
Booklet - 30-page illustrated booklet containing Terrence Rafferty's essay "Holy Terror" (the author teaches at Princeton University) and Michael Sragow's essay "Downriver and Heavenward with James Agee".
The Night of the Hunter Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I think it is fair to say that the wait was well worth it. Indeed, The Night of the Hunter looks spectacular on Blu-ray, and the supplemental features Criterion have provided are simply outstanding. This is a true American classic, folks, which has received the type of treatment it rightfully deserves. A special thanks to UCLA Film & Television Archive for making this release possible. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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