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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Documentary: "Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter"

(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.

Some interesting links:
:: Interview by Kelly Graml with Robert Gitt
:: An article in "The Guardian""The Hidden Hunter" by Robert Gitt
:: A brief article about the documentary in "the Guardian"
:: Article by Leonard Maltin
:: Article by F.X. Feeney in "L A Weekly"
:: Review by Peter Merholz
:: "The making of a mighty pantomime" Nigel Andrews' views about the documentary published in the Financial Times
:: Comments at Filmjourney.org
:: Joe D'Augustine gives us a report at Film Forno
:: Vertigo's Psycho tells us about Hunting Down Laughton's Haunting Night at And Your Little Blog, Too

Thanks to:
Pat Cronenberg for one very interesting link, and all the people who has seen this documentary and given their views online!


hamletta said...

Um, you've got a blipped-out link. The FiTimes link should be here

Gloria said...


A thousand thanks for telling me about the mistaken link: it's been duly corrected.