Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton's 1955 drama is the movie freak's definitive love machine: maligned when first released, hopelessly out of synch with American postwar sensibilities, so aberrant and singular it may properly be called the first Hollywood cult movie. It's an arch, Kabuki-like morality play set in a Saturday Evening Post mid-country and populated by shrieking archetypes. The affect is mega-noir, of course, mated with scripter James Agee's gushingly folkloric voice, Stanley Cortez's Teutonic cinematography, and twisted around the hot core of Presbyterian outrage. As the notorious blackjack preacher ("LOVE" and "HATE" tattooed on his knuckles) stalking a pair of little children in possession of a loot-stuffed doll, Robert Mitchum manifested unscrupulous evil so shocking that Laughton (according to Mitchum) upped the film's fairy-tale ante in post-production as countercharge. The issues are elemental, the morality biblical, the trials Homeric. In terms of cinematic texture, it's a hound from hell. (NR) MICHAEL ATKINSON

Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 7 & 9 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 28, 5 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 29, 5 p.m., 2009

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