Sunday, 14 December 2008

Sunday Night is.. The Child Catcher




Seasonal Christmas fare. First catch your children. Begin with Benny Hill and Robert Helpmann, add Dick van Dyke. Script, partly, by Roald Dahl. There's also Anna Quayle and Gert Fröbe and James Robertson Justice and Lionel Jeffries and even Barbara Windsor.

But that is genuine child's play compared to this. One of the greatest films ever made about childhood fear, The Night of the Hunter.





The film was a failure at the time. It was Charles Laughton's only directorial work. Robert Mitchum, who helped direct, is superb. The real child catcher. Simon Callow wrote a book about the whole thing.

Somehow Laughton walks the line between childhood fairy-tale and adult dread. I still have to steel myself to watch it.



6 comments:

Mark Granier said...

Oh yes. Thanks for that, though I have the DVD. Amazingly atmospheric film. The youtube excerpt is one of the parts I've always remembered that dreamy but tense drift downriver, that is deliberately stagy, like a story in a book, with real animals highlighted in the foreground; the animals being at home, unlike the children. Very nightmarish if you can get into it (though I've lent it to people who can't). The love/hate preacher appears in silhouette more than once, a one dimensional cut-out bogeyman. Two other great scenes: Mitchum clambering up the cellar stairs like every child's lumbering nightmare and that remarkable underwater tableau with the drowned mother in her car, disturbingly peaceful, her hair drifting like seaweed.

George S said...

I think it is what is generally called a flawed masterpiece. But most masterpieces are flawed. The vision is extraordinary and the depth of understanding equally remarkable. It is not simply a chiller or a horror film - it comes from somewhere quite visceral, I think.

Poet in Residence said...

I like these atmospheric films. Masterly music direction in there too. So why was it a flop? I haven't seen the film but judging from the clip I think there must have been lots of lost kids wandering about the US and being preyed upon. So maybe it had a basis in fact and maybe its failure was a kind of public denial of actual historical events. I wondered about some possible connection to some strange mixture of religion and black magic because of the presence of the preacher and the animals. When I checked in the Wordsworth Concise I found:-
voodoo: superstitious beliefs and practices of African origin found among Negroes of the West Indies and southern United States, formerly including serpent worship, human sacrifice and cannibalism, but now confined to sorcery...

Poet in Residence said...

By my above post I don't mean that "Negroes" were involved in kidnapping children. Quite the contrary.
I mean that some Voodoo like belief could have spilled over into the religious superstitions of the time; a bit like the Straw Men in the Orkneys. And that this coupled with an epidemic of runaway children might create a problem best to be forgetten...or at least ignored in the cinema.

George S said...

I didn't think you would mean that, Gwilym.

Interesting about all those runaway children.

Poet in Residence said...

The history appears to start in the early 1900's with the sterilisation of thousands of 'weak-minded' children who ran away; a policy of eugenics that would probably fit to the creepy quasi-religious child-catcher figure in the film clip. As to how many missing kids there are in the USA today estimates vary; between 500,000 and 2,000,000. That's a wide margin. You'd think they'd know the figure wouldn't you? Not knowing it is a scandal.