#136 The Night of the Hunter

Watched: September 17 2017

Director: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Harry Powell (Mitchum) is a preacher on a killing spree – a self-appointed Soldier of God on a mission to rid the world of attractive widows.

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“The Lord said not to have sex before marriage. I don’t remember reading anything about sex being mandatory once you’re married, so… You’re on your own, wifey!”

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He serves a stint in prison for driving a stolen car (very Christian of him) and shares a cell with robber Ben Harper (Graves). Harper tells his cell mate about his family and Powell figures out Ben’s children know the whereabouts of the money from the robbery.

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The best way to earn the trust of children is to take their father’s place

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Powell tracks down Harper’s bereaved widow and successfully woos her (with help from the very busy Icey Spoon [Varden]), set on learning her children’s secret. However, son John (Chapin) is not a fool, and he never trusts his new step-father.

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“SHOW ME THE MONEY!”

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When Powell’s misogyny, frustration and general disposition drives him to kill his new wife, the children grab the money and go on the run, drifting down the river in their boat in search of a safe haven, which they find in the form of Rachel Cooper (Gish). But Powell is not about to give up on “his” fortune…

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This is what you get for wanting to have sex with your husband

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We have no words to express how much we loved The Night of the Hunter. A serial killer (who may have been the inspiration for characters in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Carnivale), resourceful children, absolutely beautiful imagery (even the above picture of dead Willa Harper (Winters) is eerily gorgeous in its grotesqueness), and the exquisite Lillian Gish are the main ingredients which made us fall, but there was nothing about it we didn’t love.

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A badass lady with a shotgun. Need we say more?

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It’s scary and stunning, creepy, sad and hopeful. We loved the shadows, the music, the knuckle tattoos and the performances. Will definitely watch again.

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Lillian f**king Gish. Just amazing.

What we learned: It’s a hard world for little things.

Next time: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

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#65 Arsenic and Old Lace

Watched: December 14 2016

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Peter Lorre, Raymond Massay, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Theatre critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant), against his convictions, is getting married to Elaine (Lane). While they get hitched, his sweet old murderous aunts (Hull & Adair) entertain his new father-in-law along with Teddy “Roosevelt” (Alexander), Mortimer’s insane brother. And the body of their latest victim.

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Murderous and adorable!

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On their way to their honeymoon, Mortimer and Elaine stop by Dark and Godless Brooklyn to greet their relatives, and Mortimer stumbles across the dead body in the window seat and panics. Naturally. He is then completely shocked to find that his lovable aunts committed the deed and not only this one! They have so far killed 12 men and had Teddy bury them in the cellar.

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“But… They looked so peaceful after we poisoned them. So relaxed. We can’t see that we’ve done anything wrong!”

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While Mortimer tries to sort out the mess and have Teddy institutionalized to take the blame (without serving prison time), another brother shows up to further complicate things. Jonathan (Massey) is also insane, but more in the I’ll-kill-you-and-everything-you’ve-ever-loved kind of way and not the bugle blowing, stair charging way of innocent Teddy. He also brings his own plastic surgeon, Dr Einstein (Lorre – who does not age!). Oh, and their very own body to be disposed of.

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Guess who was the inspiration for Einstein’s latest surgical miracle?

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Mortimer, as the only sane member of the family, desperately tries to make everything right while also protecting his more loveable relatives. And the results are very silly, very funny and also strangely suspenseful. Grant’s face is EVERYTHING in this film, and aunt Abby (Hull) is one of the most adorable murderers in history. Poor Lane doesn’t really get much to work with though, despite her being billed second on the poster (though, we realise, not the one we chose to go with for this blog..). She’s mainly there to serve as another complication for Grant and perhaps to represent sanity in this insane world.

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As if Cary Grant isn’t perfectly capable of representing sanity on his own!

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Arsenic and Old Lace is a silly and hilarious farce which we absolutely loved. The spinster sisters living together weren’t in any way a glimpse into our own futures at all! No sir. There’s no way we’ll ever be able to afford a house like that…

What we learned: Brooklyn is not part of U.S. proper. Also, inbreeding is never a good idea…

Next time: Double Indemnity (1944)

#63 Shadow of a Doubt

Watched: December 12 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn

Year: 1943

Runtime: 1h 48min

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Young Charlie Newton (Wright) is depressed and feels sorry for her mother whose life is in a rut. She needs some action in her life – a break from the routine. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the family receives a telegram from uncle Charlie (Cotten), her mother’s brother and young Charlie’s favourite uncle, informing them that he is coming to stay for a bit.

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“Now for some non-suspicious-looking sending of telegram. Nailed it!”

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The big city uncle arrives in the small town of Santa Rosa and lavishes his family with presents and the glamour automatically associated with New York businessmen. However, very soon a pair of “surveyors” show up wanting to photograph and interview the family, especially the newly arrived uncle. Young Charlie starts to get suspicious, not only because of the hostility her older namesake shows the surveyors but also because he hid a newspaper clipping about “the Merry Widow Killer,” a serial killer preying on rich widows, from the family.

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“And now some non-suspicious-looking standing on stairs. Nailed it again!”

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The surveyors turn out to be investigators who suspect Uncle Charlie of being the killer, although they have another suspect as well. One of the investigators, Jack (Carey), takes Charlie the Younger out and eventually talks her into helping them as long as they do not make an arrest in front of her mother, as she’s afraid the shock (and shame) would devastate her. The tension between uncle and niece builds as strange “accidents” start to befall her and she suspects dear uncle Charlie might be trying to get rid of the one family member who know of his (possible) double life.

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“Finally, some non-suspicious-looking grabbing of niece. Man, I’m really nailing it all today!”

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As always, the tension and suspense are really intense in this Hitchcock thriller. The relationship between the two Charlies is creepy – first because of the slightly incestuous undertones and later on the way he manipulates her and takes advantage of her love for her mother. Besides their relationship though, the family is really quite lovely. Even the younger children have clear and defined personalities, and we loved the father and his friend’s never ending murder plans for each other. Charlie the Younger is at once too smart and too naïve for her own good and could probably learn a thing or two from her bookish little sister once in a while.

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“Two people can play the suspiciously-coming-down-the-stairs-game!”

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Eventually, Charlie learns from her uncle and starts using his own manipulative tricks against him. In fact, throughout the film she goes from naïve and sweet school girl to a grown woman in charge of herself and her own fate. Some murderous cinematic bildungsroman there! And we loved it!

What we learned: families always spoil the youngest. Also, it’s important to include Veronica Lake in your evening prayers. Childhood head trauma always leads to criminal behaviour.

Next time: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

#18 M

Watched: August 17 2016

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h 50min

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We absolutely loved this film! It’s definitely going on our favourites list, and we cannot believe it took us this long to actually watch this classic when we’ve heard about it forever.

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This is pretty much a perfect summary of the plot

A German town is plagued by a serial killer who preys on young children. The local police are getting nowhere and the organized crime bosses decide to get in on the manhunt as the killer is bad for business. They put together the best neighbourhood watch squad ever – beggars. The police and the criminals get on the killer’s trail around the same time, and we follow the three parties (including the killer himself) towards the climax of the film.

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“What is the meaning of this? Have they labelled me a Mark? A Murderer? A Mango?”

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In the end, we are treated to the eternal debate of what to do with a compulsive killer who claims he cannot help himself. Peter Lorre gives an outstanding performance as Hans Beckert – despite his despicable actions, he is somewhat believable as he begs for his life and pretty much pleads insanity (although his claims aren’t quite compatible with the fact that he sent the police and press taunting letters).

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When even the criminals want you dead, you know you done fucked up!

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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was we loved so much about this, but here are a few things that stood out:

  • Extremely cool long shots
  • Serial killer hunt (it’s our kryptonite)
  • Great visuals
  • Awesome shot compositions
  • The amazing cross-cutting between the police and the local gangsters
  • The performances
  • The use of shadows
  • The killer whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King”
  • Basically everything about it.

We strongly urge anyone who hasn’t seen this film to make it a priority. It’s worth it.

Things we learned: everyone has a responsibility to look after the children. Also, we really like dark stuff. Like, really.

Next time: Monkey Business (1931) Apparently 1931 was a good year for movies!