Film Review: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Release Date: July 26th, 1955 (Des Moines premiere)
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Written by: James Agee
Based on: The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
Music by: Walter Schumann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chapin

Paul Gregory Productions, United Artists, 92 Minutes

Review:

“There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin’ things, lacy things, things with curly hair.” – Rev. Harry Powell

I hadn’t seen this since I was a kid but having revisited it now, I was torn as to which Robert Mitchum character was more evil, this one or his role as Max Cady in Cape Fear. Regardless of which you choose, there is no one from this era that quite stirs up the intimidating, creepy vibe like Robert Mitchum.

Mitchum is perfection in this film. Also, Shelley Winters was solid and just a heartbreaking character. The scenes the two shared were so uncomfortable that I’m sure it left the audiences of the 1950s pretty disturbed.

As unhinged and as crazy as Mitchum was in Cape Fear, I do think that his character here, the Reverend Harry Powell, gets the edge. For one, he always speaks about the word of God and God talking through him but he is an actual serial killer, driven by greed and willing to kill innocent women and children just to get a bag of money that his former cellmate hid before incarceration.

This is a truly chilling film and there are few scenes in motion picture history more effective than the moment where the runaway kids are hiding in the barn and see the silhouette of Mitchum on his horse, slowly trotting across the horizon line, singing his biblical songs while looking for them.

Additionally, the scene with Shelley Winters dead in the front seat of a car at the bottom of the river is shocking, even by today’s standards. At the same time, there is a real haunting beauty in that shot and it’s that moment that really takes this film from being a dark thriller to something a bit more enchanting and viciously surreal.

Another moment that really stuck out to me, visually, was when the kids escaped the basement with Mitchum running up the stairs, reaching out like a murderous madman trying to grab them. It’s a quick moment but I immediately equated Mitchum to a natural predator desperately lashing out with animal-like instinct.

The kid actors in this, who take up most of the screen time, are actually pretty incredible. Most kid actors are annoying, especially in the 1950s, but these two felt like real frightened kids from any era. And the bravery of the boy was both uncanny and inspiring.

The Night of the Hunter is a bonafide classic and for good reason. If you love Robert Mitchum and have never seen this, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.

It boasts some of the best cinematography and lighting I’ve ever seen, as well as perfect set design and a mesmerizing tone that feels a bit fantastical but also gritty and real.

Man, I just love this movie.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the original Cape Fear, as well as some of Mitchum’s noir pictures: Out of the Past, Crossfire, Where Danger Lives, Angel Face and The Locket.

Film Review: SST Death Flight (1977)

Release Date: February 25th, 1977
Directed by: David Lowell Rich
Written by: Robert L. Joseph, Meyer Dolinsky, Guerdon Trueblood
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Lorne Greene, Peter Graves, Susan Strasberg, Doug McClure, Barbara Anderson, Bert Convy, Burgess Meredith, Tina Louise, Robert Reed, Billy Crystal, John de Lancie, Brock Peters, Regis Philbin

ABC Circle Films, American Broadcasting Company, 89 Minutes

sst-death-flightReview:

In the 1970s, America loved its disaster movies. They also loved TV movies with big ensemble casts made up of the stars from various television shows. So green lighting SST Death Flight was a no brainer, right?

A lot of the disaster films of that era didn’t hold up well at all. Now I am not sure what people thought about SST Death Flight when it aired on ABC in early 1977 but it is a friggin’ turd.

I almost feel bad for most of the cast that is in this. Burgess Meredith deserves better and Lorne Greene has done his fair share of cheese but both men are pretty accomplished and respected and have a certain gravitas that puts them above a picture like this. I can’t fault Billy Crystal, he’s pretty damn young here and was looking for that big break.

70s celebrities seemed to love being in these big disaster ensembles though, and to be honest, despite the movie being terrible, it was probably a hell of a lot of fun to make and to hang out on the set with a bunch of really cool colleagues. I wouldn’t have said “no” to it, if I was in the same position.

SST Death Flight is unexciting, uninteresting and is just a cookie cutter plane in danger picture. This formula has been done to death and this movie offers nothing really new or captivating. In fact, it plays like more of a parody but without the clever jokes.

Ultimately, a bunch of people die, some survive but no one really cares. It has the most predictable scenario, with the most predictable twists and turns all leading to the most predictable ending.

But you can watch it get riffed in the first pre-cable era season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That version is currently streaming on YouTube.

Film Review: It Conquered the World (1956)

Release Date: July 15th, 1956
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Lou Rusoff, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, Sally Fraser, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze

American International Pictures, 71 Minutes 

it_conquered_the_worldReview:

In the early days of American International Pictures, they did some imaginative low-budget sci-fi and horror films. Roger Corman will always be known for being the king of the cheapo horror feature but that certainly isn’t a bad thing. He turned films out at a record pace and was more concerned with tight shooting schedules and doing things as cheaply as possible. His formula worked for a really long time and you have to kind of admire some of the films he was able to put together using this formula.

Most of Corman’s pictures turned a profit and he created a way of doing business that still exists in Hollywood today. Granted, now it just gives us unnecessary Saw and Paranormal Activity sequels, as well as “found footage” horror pictures but Corman was certainly onto something in his heyday.

It Conquered the World is one of these Corman classics. And no, it isn’t a particularly good film but it is still pretty enjoyable and it features a hokey yet really cool monster, a Corman staple.

The film stars Peter Graves, a beloved icon to Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Crow T. Robot, and one of my personal favorites, Lee Van Cleef. We also get to enjoy the talents of one of Corman’s favorite actors, Dick Miller. Granted, Miller’s role here is really limited.

Van Cleef plays a scientist, Dr. Anderson. He has made radio contact with a creature from Venus. The alien monster claims it only wants peace but it actually wants to enslave humanity through mind control. The alien claims he can bring peace by eliminating human emotions, which is a ploy to administer the brainwashing technique. The alien disrupts all electric power on Earth, crippling the planet’s technology. The alien also releases bat-like creatures carrying mind control devices. Graves’ character, Dr. Nelson, finds his wife to be already assimilated and she attempts to use one of the bat-like creatures on him. The film then takes some dark turns until ultimately, there is a final showdown with the bizarre creature.

The acting isn’t great, the direction isn’t either but Roger Corman didn’t concern himself with these things. He had a monster movie to pump out and couldn’t waste time. It should go without saying that the special effects aren’t fantastic either.

It Conquered the World is one of those sort of films where you either love it or you hate it. It only works for a certain kind of audience: one that is familiar with Corman’s style and can look beyond the problems with the film and just enjoy it as a mindless creature feature that, at its high points, is a lot of fun.