The Night of the Hunter
Next time you hear about some Hollywood thespian embarking on his or her first directing project, hold back that snicker a minute and remember The Night of the Hunter. Actor Charles Laughton had never directed a feature before he made Hunter in 1955 and he would never make another, but it still stands as one of the most brilliantly idiosyncratic films Tinseltown ever produced. With the help of screenwriter James Agee and cinematographer Stanley Cortez, Laughton took a tale of venal small-town menace and stylized it into an epic battle between good and evil (the latter personified by Robert Mitchum's indelible turn as a murderous preacher with good and evil tattooed across his knuckles). Hunter bombed at the box office, and it's not hard to see why; the film's overheated sexual subtext and threats of mayhem against children probably didn't help. But its dreamlike power has held sway over generations of movie nuts; David Lynch must have his own personal print of it, and scores of other directors have paid it homage or just plain ripped it off. Of course, now every time an actor sits down in the director's chair, he or she has this to live up to.