This review contains spoilers!
The Night of the Hunter is surely a great of its era and while I don’t think it itself is an amazing movie to watch, it certainly was a trailblazer for movie villains.
I doubt I could say anything that hasn’t already been said about what happens in this movie, so I won’t, but if that is what you want I would recommend the Roger Ebert reviews of this film, he has two and both are great reads. Instead I want to think about whether this movie would be good if it were released today.
Before I can discuss that I have to know what makes any movie great? I think there are many, many aspects to a great movie but the best way a movie can get you truly invested in its story is to have great characters. Obviously not all great movies have great characters and not all bad movies would be saved by the presence of a great character, although some are. However when a movie has a character as intriguing and timeless as Harry Powell the rest seems to be irrelevant.
So would this movie be good without Harry Powell? What if instead it were a monster? A zombie? A gangster? Or any other generic villain. I strongly believe this movie would have been forgotten if not for Harry Powell. That’s not to say the other aspects of the movie are bad, I quite liked the music and obvious fake but intricate sets, the acting was good for the 50’s I suppose, and the story, sans Harry Powell, is interesting but not wholly original or gripping. Overall though, I don’t think this movie would be a great if it weren’t for Harry Powell and certainly not held to as high a degree as it is now.
Now lets say this movie comes out today, as is, not a change, would it still be heralded as a great of American cinema? Well I don’t think the answer is as simple as a yes or no. I think this movie was vitally important to the evolution of film and without it its hard to know if the movies it influenced would have ever been made. We’re in hypothetical territory here but I think they probably would have been, perhaps a bit later than their real life release dates, but if that were the case and it came out now it would be just another movie. However if people were never to make movies so obviously influenced by this movie, specifically by Harry Powell, then absolutely it would still be a great because that means it would bring with it a myriad of great films.
That’s basically it but I thought I would list a few movies I believe to be influenced by this movie since I kept mentioning that I think it is highly influential. I think the main influence I see that this movie had is making the villain as much of a main character, if not more of one than the protagonist(s).
First: Cape Fear www.imdb.com/title/tt0055824/
The original even has the same actor that plays Harry Powell
Second: Silence of the Lambs www.imdb.com/title/tt0102926/
This movie has 2 despicable villains yet one of them you grow close too and its the one that fucking eats people
Third: Taxi Driver www.imdb.com/title/tt0075314/
Not quite as obviously influenced as cape fear or Silence but I think it kinda takes the idea and envelops it making it what the entire movie is about