MGM

Night of the Hunter (1955)

How quickly things change.

Not so long ago my awareness of Night of the Hunter boiled down, essentially, to this:

Creating The Night of the Hunter - The American Society of ...

The preacher with the tattooed fingers. I knew it was an old movie from the fifties, I vaguely knew it was a serial killer drama and that it was considered to be a real good ‘un. But that was about where my knowledge of the film began and ended.

And now? Guys, I am a full on stan. With the insufferable zeal of the newly converted I will talk your ear off about this film. I will bore you to tears describing individual scenes. Every night I shake my fist at the heavens because I now know I live in the world where Charles Laughton only got to direct one film AND IT’S NOT RIGHT IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY THIS WORLD IS A SICK JOKE.

Guys, this movie is an absolute work of art. It is beautiful to the point of transcendence. It is an aesthetic and stylistic triumph. It is quite good.

” Gasp!”

“Right?”

The story is one of the great Hard Luck tales in Hollywood’s long, glorious history of giving talented people the shaft. Legendary English actor Charles Laughton made his directorial debut with The Night of the Hunter, now regarded as one of the greatest first films ever made. Critics panned it, audiences stayed away in droves and Laughton tearfully shelved all plans to be a director and returned to the gentle bosom of the theatre where talent is always justly rewarded (pause for hollow, bitter laugh). Actually, I’m not entirely sure that first parts totally true. The few contemporaneous reviews from the time I’ve seen are by no means pans. In fact, they’re often quite effusive in their praise of the film and its director. They’re more just…confused. Like they don’t quite know what to make of this thing. And honestly, that’s fair. It certainly doesn’t fit into any tidy little box.

It’s a horror film, and an often extremely dark one, but from the perspective of a child and with the bulk of the film being carried by two child actors. It’s also a fairy tale, dreamlike and quite surreal in its tone. And lastly it’s an intensely Christian movie which nonetheless acts as an ascerbic and harsh critique of American Christianity. So it’s not exactly like you can do a “If you liked X, you’ll love The Night of the Hunter!“. So it’s understandable, if not not forgivable, that audiences slept on this when it first came out. Also, the poster is kind of terrible and makes it look like it’s a Lifetime drama about a man who desperately needs a dictionary.

“I don’t know what words mean!”

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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

As a general rule, I don’t watch the “Making Of” features of the movies I review, because:

a) The movie should be able to stand alone as a discrete work without additional media required to appreciate it.

b) I’m hella lazy, y’all.

But after…experiencing the subject of this review, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension, I felt that I might need to read the manual. During the “Making of” there’s a moment where director WD Richter is asked what the movie is about and responds with a deep sigh and a muttered “Oh God…”

It’s that kind of movie.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension is what happens when a lot of very smart, very talented people decide to take twenty million dollars of someone else’s money and have as much fun as it is possible to have legally. This is a cult film. No, scratch that. This is a CULT film, engineered to be so from the atoms making up the film stock upward. You are either in on the joke, or you aren’t. And I have to confess, my first watch through I was very conscious of what I like to call “The Rocky Horror” effect, the sensation that you would really be enjoying the movie you are watching if you weren’t alone and stone cold sober. It’s not a “watch at home alone on a cloudy afternoon” movie. It’s a “crack open a few beers with some rowdy friends” movie. Or possibly a “watch under the influence of hallucinogens and then found a religion” movie.

What’s it about? Oh God.

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The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

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In 1959, scientist CP Snow gave his highly influential lecture; The Two Cultures where he posited that Western civilization had prioritised literature and the humanities to the point that even the most educated members of society were functionally scientifically illiterate. Snow argued that we needed to spend less time on the arts and more time on mathematics and the hard sciences.

Flashforward to 2019 and, as I write this, the most pressing question in contemporary culture is which of a series of interchangeable slabs of orange bacon some wan from Longford is going to put her leg over first so good news, Mr Snow!

“Excellent, so presumably you are all now well versed in the noble sciences?”

“Feller, fer an egg-head you sure do say some dumb shit.”

The influence of The Two Cultures can be seen in The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster’s 1961 children’s novel. Originally released to poor sales, it quickly surged on strong reviews and is now considered one of the classics of 20th century children’s literature something something something segue CHUCK JONES!

Okay, when it comes to the question of who was the greatest Looney Tunes director there are no wrong answers as long as that answer is CHUCK JONES! No disrespect to Tex Avery, Friz Freling, Bob McKimson or Bob Clampett (well, a little disprespect to Bob Clampett the credit-hogging cad). Together, these men created some of the greatest, most timeless cartoon characters of all time and also Foghorn Leghorn and Pepe LePew.

But the cartoons by Chuck Jones are just on another level. They’re not only hilarious (though, my God) they are art. They transcend their medium.

But by the late 1960s Jones had left Warner Bros and was working for MGM, trying to salvage the Tom and Jerry series after the studio had rather disastrously experimented with continuing the series with cheap Czech animation.

Yes, that’s what this was referencing.

The Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons were better received but to be perfectly fair Jones’ subtle poised style was always a bad fit for the frenetic Tom and Jerry shorts. I do love his re-designs for the characters though.

But Jones’ last animation for MGM was their adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is also the only feature length animation he ever directed (not counting various Looney Tunes compilation films). This movie was on heavy rotation in the mouse house when I was growing up, and when the grainy VHS tape that we had used to tape it off BBC 2 was lost there was much wailing and gnashing of incisors which is why my brother requested that I review it.

“Yeah. I did. FIVE YEARS AGO.”

Sorry bro. This one was an absolute bear to track down. I’ve been waiting to do this review for so long that all the Trump jokes were originally going to be Tea Party jokes.

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