“What religion do you profess, preacher?”
“The religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us.”
Set during the depression, The Night of the Hunter tells the story of a preacher, Harry Powell, who deems himself as doing “the work of God.” Thus, giving him the opportunity to take advantage of young women who let their guard down in his presence. After sharing a jail cell with a man who recently stole $10,000 for his family, Mr. Powell makes his way to the now widowed, Willa Harper. However, his façade of goodness is soon challenged by Willa’s young son, John, who must now help protect his family, and the whereabouts of the money. With amazing performances from Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters, The Night of the Hunter makes for one of the most haunting films to ever be released onscreen.
You won’t find gore or jump scares here. No, The Night of the Hunter is a quiet film. The silence, in essence, is a character of its own. This film gets into your mind and doesn’t let go; a psychological film in its truest form. Mitchum, who at the time was most known for his work in The Longest Day, or Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, played tough guys, but never really brought a bad guy such as Harry Powell to life. Mitchum fits perfectly into this character as he shuffles back and forth between good and evil, and walking a fine line as to not make people suspicious. Thus, perfectly exemplifying the true form of a psychotic serial killer. But as Mitchum had never before had a character like Rev. Harry Powell, actress Shelley Winters made a living playing characters such as Mrs. Harper. Winters’ performance is not much different from her characters in Lolita or A Place in the Sun, but Winters still shines like she always does. The rest of cast, including Billy Chapin, who plays John, beautifully brings these characters to the screen.
But what would a great movie be without its director? Charles Laughton, whose work was primarily with stage plays at the time, takes on his first film directing credit with The Night of the Hunter. Laughton had a way with the scenes, fully understanding the true responsibility of a director. As previously stated, you won’t find jump scares here, but Laughton is able to concoct some incredibly horrifying scenes. It’s these scenes, deep within the silence of the film, that make The Night of the Hunter a psychological and terrifying film. Laughton’s work here with cinematographer, Stanley Cortez, have no doubt, continued to be a source of inspiration for modern day thrillers.
Today, we can look back at The Night of the Hunter and appreciate the beauty of this horror film. However, upon its initial release, it garnered dismal reviews from critics, putting a black mark on it for moviegoers. Laughton never directed another film and instead based his creative activities in plays and acting. The Night of the Hunter is a gem hidden beneath other well-known horror films. But for any cinephile, or horror fanatic, The Night of the Hunter is a must-see film.
The Night of the Hunter
Directed by: Charles Laughton
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Billy Chapin, Peter Graves, and Lillian Gish