The Silent Majority

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Night of the Hunter

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Night of the Hunter

“What religion do you profess, preacher?”

“The religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us.”

And so we learn the nature of one peculiar man of God and his relationship with the almighty that should strike fear into all those whom have sinned before his eyes.

Night of the Hunter presents preacher Harry Powel (Robert Mitchum), a refined southern gentleman of the cloth who has been leaving a long trail of dead ‘sinners’ in his wake. Rather than remain inconspicuous and stealthy as a common killer would, Powel has assumed the persona of a traveling evangelical preacher. A charming and compelling man, he is always eager preach the good word and to tell all those around him the story of ‘Right Hand, Left Hand. Good and Evil’. Tattooed on Powel’s hands are the words ‘love’ and ‘hate’, and the battle between the two is always a real crowd pleaser. It was with the left hand that Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. H-A-T-E. However, the right hand has veins that go straight to the soul of man. L-O-V-E.

On the search for ten thousand dollars a former cell mate hid from the police, Powel finds his newest prey in widow Willa Harper (Shelley Winters), the widow of his aforementioned cell mate. Doing away with the husband was easy business, seeing as how the state took care of the killing for him but finding the money and outwitting Willa’s two cunning children prove to be more of a challenge than he predicted.

The idea of a movie monster is classically personified by your standard boogie men like Jason Voorhees, the Wolfman, and Freddy Kruger. Beasts and ghouls who violently kill without remorse or compassion. Then there are your more cerebral movie monsters. Characters who still kill without mercy, but fill every scene there are in with a state of discomfort and unrest, and not just at the sight of seeing them kill. Jaws. Anton Chigurh. Heath Ledger’s Joker. These villains only have to show up on screen and the audience is on the edge of their seats. Harry Powel could probably count the number of people he has killed on both of his tattooed hands. His only weapon is a tiny switchblade. Yet still, every time he is alone with another character, be it man, woman, or child, you always feel like he is moments away from doing something horrible. It is the subtle implication of murders yet to happen that makes the film so chilling. All that is needed is the idea and the audience fills in the rest.

Most unsettling about the film and this character is the fact that this is not your ordinary killer. This is a man of God. A good man, and an upright citizen. Certainly in Powel’s mind, a monster he is not, though he is a killer all the same. In fact, Powel may be the most morally incorruptible murderer in film history. Even after convincing Willa to marry him, he refuses to consummate their marriage. “The female body was made for begettin’ children and not for the lust of men,” he says. Perhaps it is his inflated sense of divinity, but Powel has deemed himself an eradicator of sin, never a perpetrator. He is the twisted and broken manifestation of all those stories of the Bible that we all assumed could never be used to justify something as horrible as murder, but to Powel, it is only natural to deduce such things from scripture. God, you see, does not mind the killings. His book is full of them.

One man and God worked out a religion between them. One where the rules apply only to those who had a hand in crafting it. The rest of us need only be told where we stand, and woe is he who challenges the preacher of such evangel. You know you’re in trouble if God is on the other side of that blade and on his hand are the letters that spell your fate. H-A-T-E.

– J.D. Renaud

J.D. Renaud has no formal education in film, but that is more than evident upon meeting and/or seeing him. A purveyor of all things eccentric, he prides himself on being a guinea pig test subject for any new form of media he is given. He currently lives in Winnipeg Manitoba with his go-go dancer roommate.

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Written by thesilentmajoritysays

February 27, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Posted in crime, thriller

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