“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, for inwardly they are ravening wolves” —Book of Matthew
“It’s a hard world for little things” —Miz Cooper
Hello, Trent students and film fans! Following our screening of A Star is Born (1954) with the magnificent Judy Garland, we at the Trent Film Society (TFS) are changing gears with our first of many horror-themed films this Fall. This Wednesday at Artspace the TFS is proud to present Charles Laughton’s thriller masterwork, The Night of the Hunter (1955).
Centered on a young boy, his little sister and a corrupt, murderous preacher, this unique, dream-like film has the curiosity of unfolding like a children’s story, despite its dark subject matter. But, let us not forget that many stories for children can be deeply frightening. Indeed, the feet of the dead Wicked Witch of the East protruding from beneath a house in The Wizard of Oz (1939) is recalled at the beginning of The Night of the Hunter when the discovery of a murdered woman is depicted by an image of her stockinged legs and feet.
For his take on Davis Grubb’s novel story of a fraudulent preacher who is after the $10,000 in the possession of little John and Pearl Harper, Laughton envisioned a kind of “Mother Goose” story—and what he created is a potpourri masterpiece, unlike anything else of its time. It evokes conventions from a variety of genres: elements of film noir, fairy tale, horror and even slapstick comedy combine into a religious childhood thriller. The dramatic lighting and staging techniques of German Expressionism are applied to an American biblical narrative, full of the unwholesome and the strange, creating an early example of the Southern Gothic genre.
There are so many ways to look at and interpret this film. Its emphasis on the ills of sexual repression may have been of particular concern for Laughton, who is said to have lived his entire life in the closet as a gay man. This also sheds light on its critique of how religion can be corrupted into a means of manipulation and control as seen in the preacher, who falsely wields the authority of “the good book” to act out his misogyny and wicked aims.
Seeking to recapture the visual impact of the silent era classics, Laughton viewed all of the films of D.W. Griffith’s (some several times) in preparation for filming. Drawing inspiration from Griffith, he also cast Lillian Gish, who starred in many of his films, in the crucial role of Miz Cooper, the compassionate, no-nonsense matriarch. Gish, called the “First Lady of American Cinema,” is the film’s maternal authority who does what she can to protect the innocent and the vulnerable in what she knows is a harsh world, full of evils and dangers.
This is only the beginning of what there is to think about, enjoy, and see in this film. We invite you to join us at Artspace this Wednesday, September 27 at 8pm for a screening of The Night of the Hunter. As always our screenings are completely free and open to all who wish to attend. Looking forward to seeing you there!