Saturday, December 29, 2012

Light and Music: The Night of the Hunter

The song "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" was published in 1889 by American gospel composer Anthony Showalter, naturally inspired by a passage from the bible. The tune is simple, melodic, and warm. Many versions have been recorded in the intervening decades, but I think none is more haunting than that showcased in the film The Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum. His religious fanatic serial killer idly hums this comforting hymn as he woos a recent widow in an attempt to locate some stolen money the woman's executed husband had stashed. The widow's young son is the only person in town wise to the violent pseudo-priest's ulterior motive and flees with his little sister and the loot. Giving chase, Mitchum smoothly morphs Showalter's reverent tune into a foreboding war cry as he pursues his quarry, sending its dulcet tones before him with a menacing grin. 
In this scene, Mitchum's smiling reverend is countered in righteous fashion by Lillian Gish as a steely, world-weary protector of wayward children. She takes back the beautiful hymn from the dapper snake, and the tables begin to turn.

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