A knife cutting through a pocket. Fans of "The Night of the Hunter" are familiar with the image, arent they?
... Wait, I don't recall this frame from the film... What's wrong?
Quite simply, this hand isn't Robert Mitchum's but Lon Chaney's, and this frame doesn't belong to Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" (1955), but to Wallace Worsley's "The Penalty" (1920), which David Cairns commented upon on a post at Shadowplay. It was Mr. Cairns who mentioned the scene in the comments, and I was duly intrigued.
When he posted me the screen capture seen above, I was truly awed, but let's recap and go back to "The Night of the Hunter"
Well, we have Preacher Powell attending a Burlesque show... Not that he likes it, in fact, he seems to find it rather disgusting.
So he clutches his left "Hate" fist, hides it inside the pocket and... "Snikt!"
Mr. Cairns believes that the scene in "The Penalty" might have inspired this one from "The Night of the Hunter", and it doesn't seem unlikely... Didn't the gardener tell Brecht "I steal from all places"?
Such a scene, by the way, is not in Davis Grubb's original novel, the most similar situation there being a scene prior to preacher's detention, in which he is ready to loosen the blade of his knife as a prostitute proposes to him in a brothel... One imagines that the whorehouse was transformed in the film into the -no less sleazy- Burlesque show to avoid censorship, but it is striking that the censor didn't object to the gleaming, phallic knife cutting through the clothes. The scene follows faithfully the definitive version of the script, and, from pictorial evidence, Laughton took great care in directing Mitchum's hands there.
Good direction is in the tiny details
Back to "The Penalty" , the knife cutting through Chaney's pocket is suggestively menacing, though it lacks the connection between Eros and Thanatos so strongly stated in Laughton's film. At any rate, this scenes reminds us of how "The Night of the Hunter" recovered the powerful storyteluing of silent movies, a power which was gone with the sound.
We could conclude that there might be a Worsley & Chaney connection with Laughton beyond "Notre-Dame de Paris"
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