The first recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my viewing of The Night of the Hunter is this 1950 film that sees Barton Tare (John Dall), a good man, and a crackshot, being pressured by his wife and marksman, Annie (Peggy Cummins), to go on a robbery spree across the country. As the two take the world by storm, he learns how deadly his wife can really be.
From his youth, Barton is fascinated and drawn to guns of all varieties, which often causes run-ins with the law. There is a commentary here, in the early part of the film, on gun culture as well as its sexualization, and while it its not subtle, it’s not necessarily wrong either.
Everyone he meets loves his gun collection, and it’s not until he returns to his hometown a grown man, that he meets Annie, a sharpshooter in a touring fair, that his life takes a dastardly turn. Travelling together with the the fair, the two are nigh inseparable, driven by greed and desire Annie convinces Bart to rob banks with her, so they can have all the things she wants.
Things spiral out of control as Annie pushes Bart to commit more and more violence, and he finds himself increasingly unhappy about the state of affairs. She agrees to stop after one last heist, but when deaths are involved this time, the two find themselves on the run from a manhunt that has them in the crosshairs.
The movie is dark, fast-paced, and unafraid of putting the two leads firmly in the wrong, right up to the final moments of the films when Bart has to make a final choice with his friends’ lives hanging in the balance.
This is one of those films that I had never even heard of, an afterwards, left to wonder how that could be possible. Both Cummins and Dall turn in solid performances, and it took me forever to place Cummins as Brandon from Hitchcock’s Rope.
I feel it drifted a little from it’s commentary on gun culture to simply become a bit of a thriller, I think his fascination for guns should have been played throughout, his attraction to them portrayed right up to the final moments, competing with his love and attraction to Annie, but instead it gets a little pushed to the side.
Nonetheless it is a solid film, and paved the way for Bonnie & Clyde which it followed it 17 years later.
A noir-esque thrill ride, this one engages even as it’s leads descend into violence and madness, proving that you don’t need lots of blood and on-screen violence to tell a dark story. An interesting tale, and I can’t wait to take on some more recommendations from the Great Movies book.