Let’s now move on to another film that is one of my all-time favorites: Night of the Hunter is a masterpiece, but it is also a tragedy. I came to discover it not like film students do – that is, I wasn’t pummeled into appreciation by a teacher obsessed with the stunning photography of Stanley Cortez. I discovered this film because it is the one and only directorial effort of one of my absolute favorite actors in the world, if not my favorite: Charles Laughton. The man was a genius, and I say that of very very few. And Night of the Hunter is as complicated as one of his characterizations. For Laughton there was no negative and no positive, there was no judgement when he played a role. He was able so clearly to discover the needs that drove his characters that he never had to hide behind morality. Yet as a director… his powers of observation were exposed, and not hidden beneath the unforgettable features of his own face. Night of the Hunter might seem… anti-religious or at least anti-fundamentalist to some people, but I don’t think it is… I think the very thing that makes the film as mesmerizing as it is is the struggle between the Right Hand of LOVE and the Left Hand of HATE as illustrated by Robert Mitchum in a Southern ice cream parlor to an audience of old people and children. Robert Mitchum… boy, now there was a man.
Night of the Hunter shocked people when it came out and the reception devastated Laughton so that he never made another film. That’s a tragedy, a real tragedy that makes something like the death of James Dean look like absolutely nothing to me. And it also highlights an important difference between actors and directors, even the greatest actors though perhaps not the worst directors… a director must learn to love being alone.