The Night of the Hunter

November 24, 20058:30pm

Convict Harry Powell, (Robert Mitchum), learns from a cellmate facing execution, of a stash of loot hidden at his family home. On his release Powell poses as a preacher and inveigles himself into the man’s home. Marriage and murder follow.

Powell focuses his implacable gaze on the two orphaned children to find the whereabouts of the cash. They escape the preacher in a rowboat and the film takes on a mythic, biblical quality. Spinster Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish: ‘that timeless icon of stoic purity’) stands in his way.

Laughton’s only effort as director became Mitchum’s favourite film. The director creates terrific tension between Mitchum and his prey. Laughton encouraged the star to give a surprising performance, revealing a potential for menace rather than the familiar portrayals of the cool hulk.  In turn Mitchum coaxed performances from the children, in the absence of input from Laughton who detested working with them. Shelley Winters’ campy offering as the gullible Willa reaches a high point at the church picnic, when she delivers her best line, ‘My whole body’s just a-quiverin’ with cleanness!

Telling its story through eerie visual fantasy, ‘Night of the Hunter’ borrows motifs from the silent films of DW Griffiths and the German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. The long slanted shadows of film noir figure throughout.

A critical and commercial failure on release, people did not know how to categorise this expressionistic oddity. Yet it has stood the test of time and stands now among the greatest of American films.

‘What a compelling, frightening and beautiful film it is! And how well it has survived its period.’ Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

‘Lilian Gish and a shotgun …yes!’ The Cinema Scale.

‘A truly compelling, haunting, and frightening classic masterpiece

thriller-fantasy.’ Tom Dirks, The Greatest Films.

‘A juicy allegory of evil … and innocence told with an eerie visual

poetry.’ Edward Guttman, San Francisco Chronicle.


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Film Information
Release year: 1955
Running time:   93 mins
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Language: English
Country: USA
Classification: 12A
Genre: Thriller
Starring: Robert Mitchum,
Lillian Gish

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