The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Directed by Charles Laughton

In the Deep South, a serial-killing preacher hunts two young children who know the whereabouts of a stash of money.

Y'know, this is technically a Christmas movie given how the last five minutes (the weakest scene of the film) is set on Christmas Day. Totally watch it with your kids, folks!

Anyway, it's fascinating how some of the visual and religious metaphors are, in some sense, a little bit obvious. Yet due to the sheer artistry that suffuses this film, it never seems to matter. Take, for instance, the fact that the doll is at many points positioned in between John and Pearl, thus standing as a literalised symbol of their metaphorical difference caused by the money hidden within — they even sleep with it separating them. Of equal note is the frequent appearance of the apples in key scenes of information transfer. You don't need to have gone to Sunday School to be aware that, in the Old Testament at least, the apple represents both the loss of innocence immanent in the gain of that same wisdom: think of the scene where the preacher is holding John down over a barrel of apples and is about to kill him for the knowledge of the money, who is in some sense betrayed by Pearl/Eve into revealing that 'knowledge'. Perhaps more interesting is the New Testament's treatment of apples, where it is often an emblem of the redemption from the Fall, with the apple being represented in pictures of the Madonna and the baby Jesus. The late scene with Mrs. Cooper (Lillian Gish!) receiving a gift of an apple for Christmas (Jesus' birthday, we should probably remember!) should probably be read in this second context.

Anyway, I'd forgotten just how shockingly dark this was. My word, the older ice cream lady played by Evelyn Varden is absolutely chilling. Scarier than the preacher, perhaps.