The Night of the Hunter
A Biography of a Film
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
312 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 31
- Published: February 2009
Reaching simultaneously into the realms of film and literature, this detailed exploration of The Night of the Hunter examines the genesis and the eclectic form of each work and the process of transformation by which the novel became a motion picture. It provides the first major study of the long-lost first-draft screenplay by James Agee and confronts a fifty-year controversy about the authorship of the film. This is a story of artistic convergence on many levels--of novelist and director, director and actor, and cinematic form and tastes. The novel, a 1953 debut from Davis Grubb, was a popular and critical success, remaining on the New York Times best-seller list for four months. Hollywood responded to its atmospheric lyricism, and in the hands of first time director Charles Laughton, the book became a film that is equal parts thriller, allegory, and fever dream, filled with slow, inexorable suspense. On the set, Laughton functioned both as an auteur and a collaborator to create his vision of the book, mixing cinematic flourishes both realistic and abstract in sometimes tense situations. The talents that clashed or came together along the road from book to movie make the final film a product of rich stylistic contradiction and rewarding complexity. Through biography, production history, and critical analysis of the novel and film, author Jeffrey Couchman makes the case that this initially overlooked cinematic gem is a prismatic work that continually reveals new aspects of itself.
"Couchman is a scholar of refreshing resourcefulness and wisdom. [This book] is a profound contribution to our understanding of an obscure film that has become a classic."--Michael Sragow, Baltimore Sun
"Jeffrey Couchman's study of Charles Laughton's masterpiece is an indispensable and masterly synthesis of everything now known about it. Laughton would surely have been astonished and deeply moved to think that such scholarly care should have been lavished on the film all but dismissed on its first release. A book that anyone interested in the history of cinema should read."--Simon Callow, actor and author of Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor and the British Film Institute monograph on The Night of the Hunter