When booktuber, Adam at Memento Mori set up a book club, where one reads a book and then watches the adaptation over the course of a year, I was quite eager to participate. Although I’m pretty good on the book side, I’m quite lacking when it comes to films but out of the 12 books, I’ve only read 2 and out of the 12 films, I’ve only seen 2 so I was keen to educate myself.
The first film is Davis Grubb’s The Night of the Hunter, written in 1953 and then adapted by Charles Laughton in 1955 is an interesting choice. I’ve heard of the film being a cult classic but I never even knew it was an adaptation.
Like Southern gothic literature Davis Grubb’s novel is a tale of greed, murder, sex and deceit: A preacher , who is a serial killer,is arrested for stealing a car. Later on he finds out that his cellmate, who will be hanged, has hidden 10, 000 dollars and only his two children know the location. When the preacher is released he sets on his mission to find the money even if it means killing anything that stands in his way.
The book is great. There’s a creepy, eerie vibe and quite a few weird moments, like the cellmate’s widow announcing her sins while naked in front of a mirror. Or the preacher going to burlesque shows and fondling his knife as he is both angry and aroused at so much flesh. Not to mention the ending, which is basically one of the children narrating the final events, in which he thinks he is dreaming.
As with all most southern gothic novels, there are passages which describe the south: one character speaks about garfish, some descriptions about the marshland, Grubb goes as far to describe a typical steamboat ride down the Mississippi. The Night of the Hunter is a thrilling novel that encapsulates suspense from it’s beginning to the final paragraph.
The film is a carbon copy of the book, this being 1955, the more explicit scenes in the book are toned down, same with the bad language (bastard and dammit) are omitted. Laughton enhances the novel’s southern culture by including various fauna and replicating the aesthetic, and trust me, the aesthetic of the film is strong. There are tons of amazing shots throughout the whole movie. I was amazed that such camera tricks could be pulled off in that era. I also did like the fact that Laughton ditched the surreal dream sequence and replaced it with a scene that breaks the fourth wall.
However the film is not without it’s fault. The acting is hammy, something I would not expect from both Robert Mitchum or Lillian Gish, with only the children being the saving grace. Since the dialogue is lifted straight from the book, it does not work too well in the film’s context. Saying that The Night of the Hunter is a film that must be watched, if not only for those gorgeous camera shots.
Here are some of my fave scenes:
I thought the book was better, however the movie complements it nicely so it’s a good idea to experience both mediums back to back.