Reed’s Sixth Favorite Film

11 May



I saw this film when I was even younger than its adolescent protagonists and upon first viewing, it nearly scared me to death. Robert Mitchum’s sinister Reverend Powell is one of the most affecting and powerful performances I’ve ever seen: a blend of charm and avarice that I can’t imagine any other actor achieving. The film is a suspense masterpiece throughout, but the reason it is so high in my favorites has to do with the film’s second half, where the victims of Mitchum’s sinister scheme stumble into the shelter of Miss Rachel Cooper (played by silent film legend Lilian Gish): an elderly woman whose home is very definition of refuge for the helpless. The film’s build-up to an inevitable climactic showdown between the meek of the earth and the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing resonated profoundly with me as a little boy. The film dares to say that it is not only strength of body or mind which can confront evil, but strength of heart and spirit. Don’t miss the moment when both Cooper and Powell harmonize in a chorus of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” while both the hunter and the hunted are armed for battle. The metaphors in the film’s moments are rich and complex, despite a relatively direct premise, and every time I see it, I walk away thinking of some profound, newly emerged observation.

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