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The Night of the Hunter (4K UHD Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

During the Great Depression a murderous preacher targets a widow and her two children to find the $10,000 her executed husband hid with them before he was arrested in this masterpiece from 1955.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The legendary actor Charles Laughton took his only director credit for 1955’s The Night of the Hunter, a parable about good versus evil, that blended film-noir, German expressionism, and Disney-style fantasy.

The ‘evil’ in the story is Robert Mitchum’s Harry Powell, a murderous ex-convict and ‘preacher’ who has ‘love’ tattooed on one hand and ‘hate’ tattooed on the other; the literal embodiment of the two sides of the human psyche. The ‘good’ are two sibling who know the secret to a stolen cache of money their father left with them right before he was carted off by the police and sent to death row where his cellmate, Powell, began hatching a scheme to find his widow and get the loot. After Harry maneuvers himself into their home and dispatches with the children’s mother (Shelley Winters), the two children, (Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce) flee down the river and find refuge in a home for abandoned children run by a pious elderly woman (silent film legend Lillian Gish).

Set during the Great Depression, the film begins with the tone of an American pastoral, set in the bright sunlight of rural farms and white picket fences. Darkness enters, shadows, and German expressionism come to the fore as Mitchum’s Harry Powell enters the film, his silhouette looming over the children’s bedroom. Laughton, using all the powers of cinematographer Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons), shifts the film into full-on nightmarish, Disney fantasy, with a big, glowing crescent moon, focus on nature and animals in a chiaroscuro night against a faux night sky bejeweled with dazzling stars. This river sequence leaves reality fully behind and moves The Night of the Hunter completely into the realm of art and leaves one wondering just what else Laughton may have been able to conjure up had he directed any other feature films.

Mitchum’s performance as the unhinged and murderous preacher is the driving force in this film, but Shelley Winters’ misguided widow is a nuanced and empathetic performance of a single woman struggling with two children during the Great Depression.

  • Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • Shelley Winters and Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • Shelley Winters and Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • Shelley Winters, Don Beddoe, and Evelyn Varden in The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • Billy Chapin and Peter Graves in The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • The Night of the Hunter (KL Studio Classics)
  • The Night of the Hunter (KL Studio Classics)

The Video

The Night of the Hunter comes to 4K Ultra HD from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. This is presented in a 1.85:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) Dolby Vision HDR encodement with HDR metadata showing a MaxLL of 1376 nits and MaxFALL of 25 nits. Why Kino Lorber has opted for a 1.85:1 aspect ratio is questionable considering the original theatrical aspect ratio for The Night of the Hunter was 1.66:1. It has appeared on home video releases in various AR’s over the years from 1.37:1 (original negative ratio) to its AOR of 1.66 on the Criterion release.

Despite the incorrect AR, this disc looks amazing. Apart from some frames and scenes where the grain looks a bit coarse and detail soft, which is unavoidable due to age, optical effects, and so forth, there is a fantastic amount of texture, and excellent contrast thanks to the Dolby Vision coding. The scene in the bedroom where Mitchum contemplates killing Shelley Winters shows stark contrast between the inky black shadows and bright white ‘moonlight.’ The segments with the kids on the river also have brilliant specular highlights in the reflections off the water, in the twinkle in the stars, and great depth of field thanks to extended shadow detail. Other scenes, where there is a more natural look, such as the opening scenes of the film, the Dolby Vision coding is far less of a factor.

The Audio

Kino Lorber presents the original mono mix for The Night of the Hunter in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track as well as a remix in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The mono track is clean and full with clear dialogue and score. Ironically, the 5.1 mix seems to make the dialogue sound thinner and flatter, but it does add some subtle ambience to the surround channels and a little more dynamic range.

The Supplements

This Kino Lorber Studio Classics 4K Ultra HD release of The Night of the Hunter comes with an audio commentary by Tim Lucas that is packed with information. Lucas gives few pauses in an amiable and fact-filled commentary on this film that gives information like filming techniques and on-set trivia. Kino Lorber also includes a separate Bonus Features Blu-ray with three interviews and several trailers.

Bonus Features:

  • Isolated Score Track
  • Audio Commentary by Novelist and Critic Tim Lucas

Bonus Features Blu-ray:

  • Love and Hate: Filmmaker Ernest Dickerson on The Night of the Hunter (1080p; 00:08:31)
  • Little Lambs: Actress Kathy Garver on The Night of the Hunter (1080p; 00:09:53)
  • Hing, Hang, Hung: Artist Joe Coleman on The Night of the Hunter (1080p; 00:15:42)
  • Trailers:
    • The Night of the Hunter 1 (1080i; 00:01:38)
    • The Night of the Hunter 2 (1080p; 00:01:36)
  • More KL Studio Classics Trailers

The Final Assessment

This classic film-noir/horror is one of the greatest films of all time. It is here on 4K Ultra HD looking beautiful in this release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The choice of aspect ratio is an odd choice, but the quality of the restoration and the solid bonus features make this an excellent release.


The Night of the Hunter is out on 4K Ultra HD May 30, 2023, from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.


  • Rating Certificate: Not Rated
  • Studios & Distributors: Paul Gregory Productions | Kino Lorber
  • Director: Charles Laughton
  • Written By: Davis Grubb | James Agee | Charles Laughton
  • Run Time: 93 Mins.
  • Street Date: 30 May 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
  • HDR10 Metadata:
    • MaxLL: 1376 nits
    • MaxFALL: 25 nits
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
  • Secondary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | Isolated Score Track DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
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During the Great Depression a murderous preacher targets a widow and her two children to find the $10,000 her executed husband hid with them before he was arrested in this masterpiece from 1955.The Night of the Hunter (4K UHD Review)