A Lot Of Work Went Into Whittling Down The Night Of The Hunter’s ‘Mammoth’ Script

Davis Grubb and Charles Laughton discovered over the course of production that they were on very similar wavelengths. According to an article on TCM, Laughton was thinking of “Night of the Hunter” as a fairy tale from the very beginning. “It’s really a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale we were telling,” he said. David Thompson claimed in his 6th Edition of his “New Biographical Dictionary of Film” that “the Hans Andersen-like clarity of the conception” and “the extraordinary mythic precision” of “Night of the Hunter” were Laughton’s contributions. Meanwhile, “Heaven and Hell to Play With” notes Davis Grubb’s interest in the children’s song “London Bridge is Falling Down” while writing the novel. Grubb read in “The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes” that the song originated from the “custom immemorial” of burying children alive at the riverside to appease the river’s gods before building a bridge.

Like Grubb, James Agee was born in the South, although in Tennessee instead of West Virginia. He profiled white Alabama sharecroppers in “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” and won the Pulitzer Prize for his posthumous novel “A Death in the Family,” set in Tennessee. Like Laughton, Agee “sought to revive the fearless inventiveness of D.W. Griffith,” says Michael Sragow for Criterion. Griffith is reviled today for directing “Birth of a Nation,” a revisionist history of the Civil War that positioned the Klu Klux Klan as the last line of defense between freed Black slaves and the white women of the United States. Writers and activists at the time of the film’s 1915 release were disgusted by its racism. Both Agee and Laughton were inspired by Griffith’s vision of a larger-than-life, mythic South, whether or not it ever existed outside of books and movies.

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