Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Just saw the Coen brothers’ True Grit, their best film in years and a great piece of filmmaking. Obviously people think of the John Wayne picture in relation to it. But the movie I kept thinking of was Night of the Hunter, because of the score, which is basically a fantasia on “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” the song sung by Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish in one of my favorite scenes. Gish’s character is pure good; she’s rescued the children who’ve been pursued by pure-evil Mitchum. He’s still stalking the children, and Gish sits on the porch with a shotgun to protect the children. He’s singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” and she joins in. Good and Evil singing a duet: Good trying to stay awake, Evil trying to distract Good. The whole movie has the beauty of a Noh play, as you can see from the scene itself:

There’s obvious resonance with True Grit‘s famous plot. Beyond the children-innocence-evil-justice-Christianity-America stuff, the “everlasting arms” ultimately prove to be those of Rooster Cogburn, at least for the most crucial moment; and there are lots of good arm things in the movie. The tune keeps playing throughout in the background; as the credit rolls, Iris DeMent finally belts it out.

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