Charles Laughton’s The Night of The Hunter

Charles Laughton’s only outing as a director The Night of the Hunter (1955) has been recently released on DVD by the good folks at The Criterion Collection. I first saw it on Turner Classic Movies several years ago. Ever since my initial viewing, it’s been one of my most favorite works of classic cinema. What Laughton did was create one of the most stylized, expressionistic pieces of noir cinema ever produced. When the film was first released it didn’t do well at the box office. That’s interesting because this is often a common occurrence with movies that go on to become regarded as masterpieces.

Robert Mitchum plays psychopathic evangelical preacher Harry Powell who is released from prison and searching for a stolen cache of money which was hidden by his old cell mate Ben Harper (Peter Graves) before his incarceration. Powell’s main problem is that he doesn’t know exactly where the cash is, only that its somewhere at Harper’s home amongst wife Willa (Shelley Winters) and his young children, daughter Pearl and son John. We learn that both Pearl and John know about the loot, but Willa doesn’t. Powell arrives in the small West Virginia town where Harper is from and charms his way into the unassuming townsfolk and Harper families’ lives. He soon marries the lonely, beautiful Willa, then suddenly begins to terrorize them all, both ignoring Willa’s longings for love and sadistically needling the children into telling where the money’s hidden. The striking use of noir visual motifs, along with the eerie, dreamlike score by Walter Schumann mixed with Mitchum’s rather over the top yet chilling performance are completely captivating.

To me, the film is like a mixture of a child’s dream and an adult’s nightmare. The Night of the Hunter is a prime example of what cinema can be at its most potent. It’s a movie that evokes so many emotions, from laughter to horror to sorrow to joy. All the pieces of the film come together wonderfully. It features a great cast and Director Charles Laughton utilizes all kinds of incredible visual techniques to weave a tale that has gone on to be a timeless classic about the nature of good and evil. It also makes you wonder what kind of career Charles Laughton would’ve had if he had made more films!

Buy The Night of The Hunter on BluRay



Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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5 Responses

  1. November 23, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Grindhouse Database, Furious Cinema. Furious Cinema said: The Night of the Hunter [review] […]

  2. April 30, 2011

    […] “ratting people out” is The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) which stars Robert Mitchum (The Night of The Hunter) as the titular character. Eddie aka “Fingers” is a middle aged, low level gun runner […]

  3. May 14, 2011

    […] Why you need to have it: Read our film review here […]

  4. June 27, 2011

    […] boiled crime films is not a true genre but instead an aesthetic used in films from crime cinema to psychological thrillers to sci-fi. Film Noir also surpasses the iconic black and white films into color and is still a main […]

  5. November 28, 2011

    […] seemed to be more inspired by Mitchum’s religion obsessed psychopath Rev. Harry Powell in The Night of The Hunter. DP Freddie Francis infuses the film with a gothic, visually charged aesthetic turning it into a […]

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