Monday, September 30, 2013

Buster Keaton Celebration 2013

For the 2nd year in a row, I had the great pleasure of attending the Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola, Kansas at Bowlus Fine Arts Center. The "stone-faced" icon of the silent screen Buster was born in nearby Piqua, Kansas in 1895, where he started performing along with his vaudevillian parents from age 3. The Buster Keaton Celebration has been celebrated in Iola since 1993. For 21 years, this annual event honors this genius of original comedy through a two-day (Friday and Saturday) course of education and film screenings. It's always an enlightening and entertaining good time the last weekend in September. 
Every year, this pilgrimage to Keaton country takes on a different theme. This time it was "Keaton,  Chaplin and the Fabulous Fifties." My husband and I were unable to make the first day's itinerary due to a scheduling conflict. (My husband surprised me with tickets as an anniversary gift for us to attend an all-day outdoor music concert, "Buzz Beach Ball" in Kansas City. After a full day of waiting in lines for hours and practically being trampled by substance-infused youngsters at said concert, we were thrilled to drive the ninety minutes to Iola the next morning to hang with like-minded folk who enjoy true entertainment.) When we arrived the 2nd day, we were able to meet up with friends from the twitterverse who also enjoy silent film with our same child-like enthusiasm (or even more so) in time to see a majority of the day's line-up.
 [Silent Film Loving posse Brian & Nikki (@nikkilynn4) from Nebraska, Trevor aka our 'twitter son'(@tpjost), myself (@IrishJayhawk66) and my hubby Gary]
There are so many wondrous things about this special cinematic journey. First of all, it's absolutely free to any and all who wish to attend. This event somehow gets by on the funding from the Kansas Humanities Council and private donations, not to mention the passionate and tireless volunteers who donate their time and resources. That being said, I would highly encourage anyone to donate to this richly-deserving cause. Plus, no need to register in advance or tickets to reserve - just show up, sign in on their 'guest book', set back and enjoy. 

Secondly, the presenters and topics are always fascinating. This is so more than just film screenings, it's also education. You don't have to be a film historian to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the lectures and presentations offered. The topics covered often take on a fresh angle to each year's theme. And I always walk away having discovered something new. Presenters come from all over- from across the U.S. and across the world. Generally, the presenters are made up of film historians, film preservationists, biographers and educators who are published experts, documentary filmmakers, famous silent film score musicians, noted actors/celebrities and even members of the Keaton and Talmadge families! Each year's line-up changes based upon that year's theme, but the presenters never disappoint to deliver insightful presentations.  

This year was no exception as topics included the hot subject of McCarthyism and it's influence on Chaplin, Keaton and Hollywood during that era. Celebrities were on board again this year- including well-known actors James Karen (close friend of Buster Keaton) and Paul Dooley, most recognizable as the Dad in John Hughes' "16 CANDLES" (1984). Because the Buster Keaton Celebration has a decidedly 'Kansas-small-town-friendly' tone, it feels more like a welcoming casual reunion. As I discovered, it reflects a more intimate atmosphere as I introduced myself and chatted to presenters, during breaks.

I've never been a shy gal so walking up to a total stranger and starting a casual or even in-depth conversation has never been an issue. So I was surprised to discover that even I (aka 'doesn't know a stranger Kellee') can be star-struck, in my own way. Last year, actor James Karen was incredibly kind enough to share a bit of conversation and pose for a photo with me. This year, he remarkably remembered me and graciously obliged a photo again. As did the actor Paul Dooley. By the way, Paul Dooley was incredibly generous in his conversation with my husband and me. He told us magnificent stories of how director/writer John Hughes wrote in a bigger role for him as the dad in Hughes' "SIXTEEN CANDLES" (1984) to convince him to take the part and how it was Paul himself who suggested a more fitting line to end that famously touching dad-and-daughter scene when his character apologizes for forgetting his daughter's birthday John Hughes kept that change in. And you know how Chevy Chase played Clark "Sparky" Griswold in Jeremiah S. Chechik's National Lampoon "CHRISTMAS VACATION" (1989)? Well, Paul shared with us that that role was written by Hughes with none other than Paul Dooley in mind. How cool is that?! We even discovered that Paul was the head writer for the first season (1971-1972) of PBS's Emmy Award winning and star-studded children's TV show from my childhood "The Electric Company"! Who knew??  So, how did I reveal my star-struck weakness? As a gal who is known for her BIG outgoing smile, I've noticed that I reveal a completely different type of smile which is alien to me- only while posing with celebrities while I nervously embrace, and face the camera awe-struck. I better fix my awkward celeb smile quickly before this Kansas gal visits Hollywood someday soon... but I digress. 
                                                                [Jim Karen and me]
                                   [Paul Dooley and me (with my star-struck awkward smile)]

Besides socializing with friends and viewing hilarious classics like Keaton's "SEVEN CHANCES"(1925) on the big screen, I think one of the most enjoyable aspects of this year's Buster Keaton trip, must be the segment of Saturday's schedule devoted to Melissa Talmadge Cox, granddaughter of Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge, and Barbara Talmadge, daughter-in-law of Buster Keaton. When we came last year, members of the Talmadge/Keaton family were there and it was so interesting and popular, they had to stop taking questions and move on to keep on schedule. This year, Melissa and Barbara kindly offered to come back and continue. Frankly, the stories both Melissa and Barbara tell are funny, genuine and utterly delectable. I was hanging on to every word. The stories they told about growing up with such a famous grandpa/father-in-law plus all the movie stars they encountered were fascinating peaks into a Hollywood dream. Melissa was the only granddaughter amongst the grand kids and you could imagine how their bond was special. The personal photos of both sides of the family (Buster Keaton's and the Talmadge sisters') up on the big screen were as equally delightful as the funny and heart-warming stories they told. I can't help but feel some bias in thinking that some of that Kansas friendliness has stayed with Keaton/Talmadge family because they were down-to-earth and sincerely charming. 
This year's full schedule:
FRIDAY, 9/ 27:
10 am- Buster Keaton Museum Tour- Piqua, KS
                       Caravan departs from The Bowlus Fine Arts Center
1pm- Afternoon registration begins in the lobby of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center
1:20pm- Welcome and Introduction
                       Hooman Mehran, Film Historian and co-editor of the Chaplin Review
2:10pm- Q & A
                       James Karen, Actor and long-time friend of the Keaton Family.
                       Interview with Frank Scheide
3pm- Q & A
3:10pm-  Break
                        Keaton and Chaplin Shorts including commercials and cartoons
5pm- Dinner Break
                 "OUT WEST" (1918), short film starring Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle
                                                     Live music by Jeff Rapsis
                  "A KING IN NEW YORK" (1957), feature starring Charlie Chaplin

SATURDAY, 9/ 28:
8:30am- Registration opens
9am- Welcome and Introductions
              IN THE 1950's: JEROME "JERRY" EPSTEIN'S AUDIO MEMOIR ON CHARLIE     CHAPLIN, Frank Scheide, Ph.D, University of Arkansas
9:50- Q & A
            Charles Maland, Ph.D., J. Douglas Bruce Chair of English and Cinema Studies at University of Tennessee
10:40am- Q & A
10:50am- Break
                  Lisa Stein Haven, Ph.D., Ohio University Zanesville
11:40am- Q & A
11:50am- Lunch Break
1:15pm- Welcome and Introductions
               Kate Guyonvarch, Chaplin Office Director, Roy Export S.A.S., Bubbles Inc. S. A.
2pm- Q & A
               Melissa Talmadge Cox, Granddaughter of Buster Keaton
               Barbara Talmadge, Daughter-in-Law of Buster Keaton *Interviewed by David MacLeod
2:50pm- Q & A
3pm- Break
               "HER SISTER FROM PARIS" (1926), feature film starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Coleman, with live music by Jeff Rapsis 
5pm- Dinner Break
                     "ONE A.M." (1916), Charlie Chaplin short
                     "SEVEN CHANCES" (1925), feature film starring Buster Keaton,
                                                                     with live music by Jeff Rapsis
If you haven't made the trek to Iola, Kansas for the Buster Keaton Celebration yet, you have plenty of time to get your travel arrangements squared away for the next one. The Bowling Arts Center is already booked for their own special 50th anniversary next year so the Buster Keaton Celebration will return in September 2015. Hope some of you will join us~ I know I'll be there!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

SNEAK PEAK~ Kellee's October Film Fun!

October translates into many seasonal offerings for me: a start to cooler weather, cozy sweaters and jeans instead of shorts and tank tops, my favorite scent of pumpkin spice candles burning throughout the house, crunchy tastes of apples and tart cranberries, an urge to bake more frequently, the falling of beautiful leaves in shades of orange, yellow, brown and green, and all the decorating and fun of Halloween. But enjoying the Halloween holiday is not complete without some classically creepy films. Last year, I chose the month of October to kick off the crisp Autumnal season with a month-long series of some of my favorite spooky and fun classic films.

Last year, I reviewed the following films with eery delight: Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN  (1974), Alan Rafkin's THE GHOST and MR. CHICKEN (1966), F. W. Murnau's NOSFERATU (1922)-seen on the big screen with live musical accompaniment, Jacques Tourneu's CAT PEOPLE (1942) for the Val Lewton Blogathon, and I ended on a very Halloweeny fun note by reviewing my favorite campy late night horror hostess with most-ess CREMATIA MORTEM. This year, I'd like to continue this tradition of reviewing a month-long film series with more of my spooky cinema faves.

I will offer this sneak peak by revealing that I'm including my absolute favorite Halloween film of all time... Frank Capra's ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944). I decided to also include Halloween standards like James Whale's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and likely a Vincent Price classic like William Castle's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959). I can also tell you I'll be rounding out the series on Halloween day with my contribution to the Hitch Halloween Blogathon, with Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE (1948). For the final list, I plan to choose any classic film of horror genre or something that's simply a ghostly good time. Stay tuned, ghouls and gals!     

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogger List of Characters

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon is back! And to keep the whacky threesome hosts of Aurora (aka @citizenscreen) of Once Upon A Screen, Paula (aka @Paula_Guthat) of Paula's Cinema Club and yours truly ... Kellee (aka @IrishJayhawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled on track, we have organized a running tally of characters that bloggers have staken claim thus far. Stay tuned as this will be updated as we chug along closer to our BIG blogathon dates of November 9 -11...


(listed alphabetically by character actor)
Edward Arnold – The Girl with the White Parasol
Irving Bacon – Speakeasy
Florence Bates – Christy’s Inkwells
Eric Blore – Portraits by Jenni
Ernest Borgnine in MartySilver Screenings
Timothy Carey – Furious Cinema
Jane Darwell – Pam on Once Upon a Screen
Harry Davenport – Once Upon a Screen
Joyce Grenfell – Caftan Woman
Hugh Herbert – Immortal Ephemera
Sterling Holloway – Sittin’ On a Backyard Fence
Edward Everett Horton - @GJMaupin
Roscoe Karns – Classic Movie Hub
Jesse Royce Landis – MaesMusings on Once Upon a Screen
Sheldon Leonard – A Shroud of Thoughts
Sam Levene – Tales of the Easily Distracted
Peter Lorre – TV’s Fault
Mary MacLaren – I Love Terrible Movies
Tully Marshall – Movies, Silently
Hattie McDaniel – Outspoken & Freckled
Frank McHugh – Paula’s Cinema Club
Dick Miller – Cinematic Catharsis
Thomas Mitchell – Joel’s Classic Film Passion
Agnes Moorehead – Movie Star Makeover
Jeanette Nolan – The Last Drive-In
Edna May Oliver - The “semi” Daily Maine
Gail Patrick - Picture Spoilers
Jessie Ralph – The 5 AM Show
Tony Randall - Flick Chicks
Thelma Ritter – Family Friendly Reviews
George Sanders – Cindy Bruchman
Joe Sawyer – The Bogie Fim Blog
Stanley Tucci – Paula’s Cinema Club
Hank Worden – Critica Retro
?? – Wide Screen World

Keep 'em coming, bloggers! My co-host Aurora thanks you, my co-host Paula thanks you... and I thank you!!

WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon 2013

They are eccentric. They are unusual. And, they are BACK!

No role is too small for the great actors who often appear in the periphery of our beloved classic films. For the second year in a row, we put them front and center. Hosted by Aurora of OnceUponAScreen (@citizenscreen), Paula of Paula's Cinema Club (@Paula_Guthat) and myself- Kellee (@IrishJayhawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled it's the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon!  

This event was conceived from the phrase used by our beloved home of the classics, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and it proved to be a smash hit with bloggers and readers alike last year. The enthusiasm and appreciation for the great character actors overwhelmed us so we're back to lend praise to the many more we love, love to hate, those who make us laugh, or who cause us to simply smile in recognition.
  • Can you count how many scenes Barry Fitzgerald stole from the likes of the Duke, John Wayne?
  • Would GONE WITH THE WIND be as memorable without the talents of Hattie McDaniel or Thomas Mitchell?
  • We'd have no reference to cling to if not for Eve Arden reminding us that "alligators eat their young" in MILDRED PIERCE.
 To those, and to the many others whose work we admire, we dedicate WHAT A CHARACTER!

If you're interested in participating (and we certainly hope you are), please adhere to the following:
  • Let one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice. Although we're inclined to limit these to those considered traditionally "classic character actors (or before 1970's, just to choose a point of reference) - if you have an actor in mind beyond that time, that's acceptable, as well.
  • Please include your twitter or FB tag, email address and blog name with URL.
  • Publish the post for either November 9, 10, or 11. Let us know if you have a date preference, otherwise we'll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
    Please include the blogathon graphic (our WAC! banner) on your blog to help publicize the event.
  • Include the graphic and link to of one of the host sites in your WHAT A CHARACTER! post.
  • If possible, please send any of the hosts the direct link to your WHAT A CHARACTER! post by the end of the day before your due date. Otherwise, we'll simply link to your site's home page. 
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word! There are SO many great characters worthy of attention.
HAPPY BLOGGING, cinema friends!!

Check out the growing list of fabulously talented bloggers and their picks for character actors ... here!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

the NIGHT of the HUNTER

Light and dark. The hunted and the hunter. Charles Laughton's THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) is a beautiful and deeply disturbing film of striking contrasts. A cinematic visual wonder, this film is rich in symbolism. Masterfully cast with outstanding performances, beautifully directed, and filmed in sumptuous cinema photography, this unforgettable story of innocence and evil serves more as an exquisite piece of art.
[I want to tell you a story of love and hate as revealed in the details of this film. So yes, of course this will be heavily loaded with SPOILERS.] Our story begins with a simple elderly woman looking farm-worn with kind eyes, Rachel Cooper (portrayed by Lillian Gish), as she recites biblical scripture quotes. She foreshadows with a foreboding nod of what's to come... "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them." We see children playing as they make an eery discovery of a dead woman's body then it cuts to our antagonist, the self-proclaimed Reverend Harry Powell (portrayed by Robert Mitchum), who reveals his 'calling' as a messenger of God who relieves widows of their wealth and kills women who he believes are sinners. We switch over to young siblings John and Pearl Harper- just as their father Ben (portrayed by Peter Graves) erupts onto the scene fresh from a robbery with a bloody wound and a ten grand stack of cash in his fist. The man demands his son to always take care of his little sister and for both to never reveal where the $10k fortune is hidden- not even to their mother. The police arrive, forcing Harper to the ground and we see John noticeably shaken up by his father's capture. Thrown into jail on a lesser charge as a car thief, the Reverend bunks with Harper as he faces the death sentence. Harper's final vice is talking in his sleep, muttering "and the child shall lead them" but ultimately he never reveals the treasure's location through his bitter end. Yet the seed of want is firmly planted now for the fanatic man on a mission.
After their father's hanging, the Harper children are bullied and outcast by the other school kids and townspeople. The only friends the Harper family have now are the ice cream shop owners, Icey and Walt Spoon, where widow Willa Harper (portrayed by Shelley Winters) works and John's friend, "uncle Birdy" the kind and scruffy river man (portrayed by James Gleason). The preacher arrives in town in a superbly shot scene. John is telling Pearl a bedtime story and as he talks about the 'bad men' of the story, a large ominous figure with a preacher's brim casts a shadow from the window. The boy moves to the window and peers down to see the preacher under a lamp post, as he strolls off singing a hymnal. The wolf has circled the edge of the flock, with his woolen disguise.  
Rev. Powell quickly and charismatically charms his way into this small town folks' trust. Everyone except John, that is. He deceptively persuades them of his moral status by explaining the letters written across his knuckles, "L-O-V-E" and one hand and "H-A-T-E" on the other with his dramatic story of struggle, with good winning over evil. But it's naive and simple Willa Harper he first sets his target on. Willa feels a burden of guilt about the money her executed husband left behind. The preacher lies to everyone when he claims he knew Ben Harper as a pastor for the prison (not as his cell mate) and he lies again when Willa asks him if Ben shared where the money was hidden. He tells Willa and and the children the money was tied to a rock and thrown in the river. Willa feels "clean" from the burden of her dead husband's crime being released so it's obvious to the preacher that it is not she who knows of the fortune's true location, as the children respond differently. The wolf knows it's time to mark off the weaker ones of the herd, so the Reverend proposes to Willa and informs John privately that he is on to his secret.

On their wedding night, Willa and her new groom are alone. She is truly happy as she gets ready for her bridal bed. As she steps into the bedroom, the tone changes abruptly. The preacher scolds her immediately for making the absurd assumption they would consummate their marriage. He angrily chastises her for being so sinful as to presume her role is anything other than mother to her current children, instead of lustfully seducing him to create more. The wolf is shedding his woolen disguise now. And Willa is left confused, ashamed and feeling very "unclean."
To feel clean again, Willa joins her preacher husband for fire-and-brimstone religious sermons as she passionately preaches to the town folk of her journey as a sinner with a 'painted face' who found cleanliness through God when her ill-gotten money was thrown into the river. Now with Willa under his spell, he goes after the children by dividing and conquering. While he keeps asking where the money is hidden to the children, the mother does not believe it. That is, until one night when the Reverend can tell Pearl is close to cracking so he locks up John in his room and interrogates Pearl alone. As he threatens to break her arm if she doesn't fess up, Willa overhears his threats as she walks up to the house. Despite evidence of his lies and threats, Willa confides to her husband at bedtime that she's aware the money must still be near and that John must know it's location. She is so obsessed in her pursuit of salvation, she blindly finds comfort in her illogical perception that the money is what brought them together and somehow his "sins" and true motivation do not matter. In this visually memorable scene, she lies angelically on the bed with her arms crossed, looking upward contently and free of burden while dark and light casts shadows on the A-frame ceiling like a cathedral. In the background standing nearby, the Reverend stretches out his clawed grip upward to the heavens, then he stops to pull the blinds down, takes out his switchblade and hovers over her to strike.
As the children sleep, the preacher wastes no time in disposing his bride's body and planting a convincing alibi to the Spoons. He lies again as he claims Willa has run away in the middle of the night in an old Model T. He further discredits her character by claiming she was sinful as a secret drinker, refusing him in bed and implied she was a poor mother so he'll be the martyr by becoming a full-time parent to John and Pearl. In a haunting underwater scene, we see "uncle Birdy" discover Willa's body tied down in the Model T as he's fishing when his hook gets caught on her grave at the bottom of the river bed. Sadly, he is so convinced that the law will pin the murder on him, Uncle Birdy is driven to heavy drinking to console his grief instead of revealing his morbid discovery.
Meanwhile, the children hide in the basement as John tries to convince his little sister the time has come to run away. The preacher calls to them, but it takes Mrs. Spoon's surprise drop-in with supper to draw them out. It doesn't last long for as soon as Mrs. Spoon leaves, the preacher starts up the interrogation again. Rev. Harry Powell: "Weren't you afraid, little lambs, down there in all that dark?" His patience wearing thin, he brings out his switchblade to intimidate John and Pearl if they don't reveal their secret. John claims the money is buried in the cellar to stall him. Hypocritically, the preacher threatens to kill John for his lying, forcing Pearl to blurt out the treasure's true hiding spot. Desperately, John creates a diversion and they run to Uncle Birdy for help. Tragically, he is too drunk and passes out. Their only hope is to flee by traveling down the river all alone. The children barely escape in a boat, as the preacher lumbers after them. The hunt has begun.
John and Pearl's journey along the river is filmed beautifully with images of nature and wildlife, interjections of song and gorgeous shades of dark and light. The preacher pursues on horseback; never far behind. Exhausted and dirty, John and Pearl are fast-asleep when their boat runs aground and the stern but loving Ms. Cooper discovers them- cleans and feeds them, bringing the children into her home. We quickly see this is not the first time she has taken little lambs into her flock; as John and Pearl share chores with the other children, who are also not of her own flesh and blood. As she tells a shop keeper who asks if she's heard from her own son: "I'm a strong tree with branches for many birds. I'm good for something in this old world and I know it too."
 The good-hearted shepherd Ms. Cooper continues to care for all her little lost lambs, including John and Pearl. She's a disciplined and religious woman so she reads bible stories to the children. But John openly displays a disliking for scripture with the devilish hypocrisy he's experienced with the preacher. She tries to get John to open up about his past by telling the story of how baby Moses was discovered in a little skiff, just like John and Pearl. The eldest lamb in Ms. Cooper's flock, Ruby is in that awkward phase between child and woman but who is looking for love in all the wrong ways. So she pretends to be taking sewing lessons when she's actually hanging out by the drugstore, enjoying attention from boys. She is an easy target when the preacher comes along and takes advantage of her willingness to answer all his questions about John and Pearl in exchange for some ice cream, a magazine and compliments from a stranger. She immediately regrets her recent actions and bares her soul to Ms. Cooper. Her confession of shame is rewarded with supportive kindness and forgiveness. Ruby also shares that this preacher man wanted nothing in return but information on John and Pearl. Ms. Cooper is suspicious.
When the preacher appears at the house, he attempts his best lies to explain the strange reasoning behind John and Pearl's mysterious arrival to her doorstep. But John confidently tells Ms. Cooper, "he ain't my Dad." She instinctively knows something is wrong and astutely answers, "No, and he ain't no preacher either." John grabs Pearl's doll and runs under the porch, as she bolts for her rifle inside while the preacher scrambles after John brandishing his switchblade. She firmly points her weapon at him and orders him to leave. He insults her via scripture quotes and vows to return at night.

As he promised, and just like the first time John saw the preacher under the lamp post, the wolf creeps in closer to the edge of the flock that night. He stands guard just outside the fence and sings his hymnal. We see the dark silhouette of Ms. Cooper on the porch in the foreground while the preacher is shown in light in the background. In an interestingly queer moment, she joins him in singing this hymnal, holding her rifle. The preacher disappears as Ms. Cooper is distracted as Ruby approaches holding a candle. She tells Ruby to get the others. She looks outside as an owl swoops down to kill a bunny outside and says, "It's a hard world for little things."
In a close call, the preacher enters the house but Ms. Cooper shoots her weapon and he runs to the barn, howling like a crazed animal. She makes a call to the operator: "Get your state troopers out to my place. I got something trapped in my barn." By daylight, the state troopers arrive and they easily draw him out of the barn. As they tackle him to the ground, charging him for the murder of Willa Harper, John oddly cries out "don't, don't!" He runs to him and pounds the doll repeatedly on his back, begging him, "here, take it back!" The money flies out of the doll and Ms. Cooper takes him in her arms. Young brave John has finally broken down. This scene is clearly too reminiscent of the time his father was taken from him. And the burden of carrying his father's secret has been too much of a sacrifice, resulting in too much pain and tragedy.    
Time has passed and the trial has come. When directed by the prosecutor on the witness stand, we see John unable to identify the preacher as his mother's murderer. It's all too much. So Ms. Cooper takes the children away from the courtroom and out to the local diner. Their meal is interrupted by the overflow crowd of town folk who are worked up into a frenzy; a mob thirsty for vengeance. The hunted have become the hunters, stalking the hunter now. The shepherd protectively flees with her flock out the back alley. It's now Christmastime back at the house and the snow is falling. In a sweet scene, all the children are excitedly exchanging gifts with Ms. Cooper. John scrambles to produce a gift last-minute by taking a doily from the table and wrapping it around an apple. Ms. Cooper graciously accepts his kindness. John and Pearl are home at last. She warmly considers Christmas and the gifts of the goodness and resilience of children: "they abide and they endure."   

Very surprising that director Charles Laughton chose this story with such a strong message on the merits and goodness of children. It was well known that he hated children. It's been said he had particular frustration and little patience in dealing with the young actress who played Pearl. Brit-born Laughton was an award-winning and popular actor of stage and screen, a producer, a drama teacher and for his first and last time with this film, a director. Although he stated his reasoning for never directing again was due to Laughton's preference for directing plays over film, many believe the truth had more to do with his bitter disappointment in this film's poor commercial success. Despite the less than flattering response from critics after this release, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER has endured as a favorite of classic film fans. Lead Robert Mitchum claimed Charles Laughton to be his favorite director. How bittersweet considering it was his only film. 
 With this strong cast, Shelley Winters is aggravatingly convincing as the clueless and simple Willa Harper. Robert Mitchum's performance is perfect as the charismatic serial killer who uses religion to his sociopathic advantage. He brings a whole new level of evil to some deeply disturbing scenes as Harry Powell. On the contrast, Lillian Gish brings the perfect balance to Rachel Cooper. She is the physical embodiment of a fragile and gentle old woman. But her tremendous strength of character reflects her brilliance and is exactly what was needed for good to ultimately overcome evil. It's hard to believe that Laughton's first choices were Gary Cooper and Betty Grable for the leads. 

This film is packed full in symbolism and vibrant contrasts. It takes on the subject of religion; showing the potential of both goodness and strength but also of hypocrisy of it's morbidly dark side. For such a strong story and cast, filmed in such an artistic way (thanks also to talented cinematographer Stanley Cortez), perhaps it is the controversial debate of religion that caused this film's lackluster of success. My belief is that a 1955 audience was not ready for this artistic masterpiece that dared to show beauty and dark terror so closely together. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER was simply ahead of it's time.         

*This blog entry is part of the GISH SISTERS BLOGATHON, hosted by Movies Silently (@MoviesSilently) and The Motion Pictures (@TMPLindsey). Check out all the great blogging 'dish on Gish' Sept. 7-9th.