(Article updated:Friday October 1st 2008: more people has had the lucky chance of seeing this, so I've added the links with their comments)
One of the possible features for a Special Edition DVD of "The Night of the Hunter" would be the more than eight hours of surviving rushes of the film. UCLA Film Preservation Officer Robert Gitt recently assembled a good part of this material in a documentary titled "Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter", which as one reviewer in the links below has put it, is like if a master class of film direction given by Laughton. While I think this documentary would deserve a DVD release by itself, I also believe that it would make a terrific extra for a Special Edition DVD.
The story of how this footage has reached our days is a curious one: as mentioned in the previous post, Laughton wasn't keen on breaking the concentration of his actors, so instead of yelling "cut!" he would keep the camera rolling and try for another take, instructing the actors as if in a theatrical rehearsal. This meant that a large amount of filmed material of documentary value was generated.
Most of this, of course, was to be deleted in the editing room, and, had Laughton followed the then prevailing habits of film making, all this footage would have been thrown to the bin. Instead, and in spite of the commercial failure of the film, he opted to keep it, as if he had hopes that the future would meet with more appreciative audiences. His act of faith has preserved the process of the making of the film as in a time capsule: those who love "The Night of the Hunter" may experience the same emotion watching these rushes as Howard Carter did when he discovered Tutankhamun's tomb.
While working for the American Film Institute (AFI) in the 70's. Gitt visited Elsa Lanchester in order to collect material related to “The Night of the Hunter” and she told him that he had boxes of outtakes at home and he could take them with him, too. This material was stored first by AFI and later by UCLA Film and Television Archive. Over the years, Gitt worked to re-assemble this material and finally produced a documentary with it in 2002.
Those lucky ones who have been able to see the film in special screenings in cinematheques around the world describe this documentary as an unmissable event. As mentioned in the previous post, this film provides filmed evidence against the stablished myths about Laughton hating children and not directing the kids in the film, and give a first-hand impression about Laughton's thoroughness at work, as well as his relationship with members of cast and crew.
There are a number of posts already queueing about this, so it's time to set an index: :: Click here to find arguments to ask for a Spedial Edition DVD of the film. ::Click here to e-mail your petition. ::Click here to behold the list of the bold petitioners.
You can also find these other related posts: ::Click here to read a review of Preston Neal Jones' " Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of Night of the Hunter " ::Click here to see a series of interesting online reviews and goodies related to the film.
(Article updated: March 2008) Starting here, I'll be posting short reviews about items related to "The Night of the Hunter", and I will start with a book which is a treat for all lovers of the film. Stay tuned for updates and future posts! Title: Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of Night of the Hunter Author: Preston Neal Jones Published by: Limelight Editions, 2002
Everything you ever wanted to know about "The Night of the Hunter", or nearly, can be found in the 400 pages of this book. It thoroughly covers the successive stages of the making of the film, from the preparatory work to its aftermath. The book presents a series of interviews -deftly weaved in chronological order- with members of cast and crew, among them: actors Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish and Don Beddoe, Producer Paul Gregory, film photographer Stanley Cortez, art director Hyliard Brown, second unit director Terry Sanders, editor Robert Golden and writer Davis Grubb.
Davis Grubb's brother Louis, composer Walter Schumman's widow Sonya, and actor William Phipps, a good friend of Laughton and Mitchum, share reminiscences which provide further insight. The author has also sourced himself well in previous bibliography and multitude of archival sources. Apart from that, we find there fascinating graphic material, such as stills from the film, on-the-set snapshots, layouts ad preparatory drawings, illustrations et alia...
From this Kaleidoscopic presentation, we are close to getting the whole picture. All testimonials are presented in a way which doesn't interfere with the reader's own judgement, and the information uncovered brings a number of interesting news about the film and, in some stances, helps debunk some false myths about it.
For instance, the script has been traditionally attributed to James Agee, but he just produced a first script, the final draft being by Laughton, who opted, nonetheless, to give credit to Agee, who sadly died before the film was finished. This is no speculation, as proved by the abundant communication (written, verbal, graphic) between writer Davis Grubb and director Laughton, which shows that the director didn't limit himself to visualize someone else's words, but strived to gain further understanding in order to be able to give his best to his own personal rendering of the novel.
Also, it has been so far commonly assumed that the notions spread by Laughton's widow Elsa Lanchester "Laughton hated kids" and "couldn't bear to direct the child actors in the movie" were true to fact, but this is solidly disproved in the pages of the book, not merely from the words of those who were present in the set (which describe a good entente between director and children), but also from the filmed evidence that Preston Neal Jones got from witnessing laughton's direction of the children in the surviving rushes of the film (more about this in an upcoming post about Robert Gitt's documentary).
We get also fascinating glimpses of Laughton's directing methods: he didn't have the habit of shouting "cut" and the camera was kept rolling between diferent takes, a measure that helped the actors' concentration not to be broken. The film was shot in the silent-movie manner: Laughton gave directions to the actors as the scene was being shot (in post-production, Laughton's voice was, of course, cleared). Being an actor himself, Laughton's manners' towards cast and crew were starkly different from those he had suffered himself while working at the orders of some directors-dictators, autocrats of the set.
While he had a well-defined idea of what he wanted to do in the film, he also fostered creative input coming from his collaborators. Stanley Cortez, for instance, graphically described his fruitful exchange of ideas with Laughton as "mental intercourse". We can also pay heed to actor Peter Graves, who stated that working for Laughton, as compared what he had experienced working for John Ford, was like going from hell to heaven.
In the aftermath of "The Night of the Hunter", a tantalising account is given by Cortez and Sanders about the preparatory work of what would have been Laughton's second film, "The Naked and the Dead" (after Norman Mailer's novel), which reveal that he wanted to make it as visually and narratively innovative as "The Night of the Hunter" was. And we are also revealed that, had not the commercial failure of "The Night of the Hunter" put an end to his career as a director, that he was keen on directing a film adaptation of Thomas Wolfe's novel "You Can't Go Home Again": Laughton was an admirer of Wolfe ever since he was introduced to his work in the radio programmes he did for Norman Corwin and included excerpts of Wolfe's novels his reading tours.
This post is only a brief hint of the riches contained in the book... The reader is welcome to discover the rest of the treasure.
Dwelling in an arriki-town beside Barcelona.
Obviously interested in Charles Laughton! Yet it is true that there are more things in life: tiger-nut milk, Hideko Takamine or downhill races on ball-bearing wheel carts, just to name three items...