In the entire history of American movies, The Night of the Hunter
stands out as the rarest and most exotic of specimens. It is, to say the least, a masterpiece--and not just because it was the only movie directed by flamboyant actor Charles Laughton or the only produced solo screenplay by the legendary critic James Agee (who also co-wrote The African Queen
). The truth is, nobody has ever made anything approaching its phantasmagoric, overheated style in which German expressionism, religious hysteria, fairy-tale fantasy (of the Grimm-est variety), and stalker movie are brought together in a furious boil. Like a nightmarish premonition of stalker movies to come, Night of the Hunter
tells the suspenseful tale of a demented preacher (Robert Mitchum, in a performance that prefigures his memorable villain in Cape Fear
), who torments a boy and his little sister--even marries their mixed-up mother (Shelley Winters)--because he's certain the kids know where their late bank-robber father hid a stash of stolen money. So dramatic, primal, and unforgettable are its images--the preacher's shadow looming over the children in their bedroom, the magical boat ride down a river whose banks teem with fantastic wildlife, those tattoos of LOVE and HATE on the unholy man's knuckles, the golden locks of a drowned woman waving in the current along with the indigenous plant life in her watery grave--that they're still haunting audiences (and filmmakers) today. --Jim Emerson, Amazon.com
The only film to be directed by Charles Laughton, 'The Night of the Hunter' was critically panned on its release but is hugely revered now and was Robert Mitchum's personal favourite. Set in Thirties rural American South, Mitchum stars as the psychopathic preacher, Harry Powell (with LOVE and HATE tattooed on either hand), who is arrested for a minor offence in a small West Virginian town. His cell mate, Ben Harper (Peter Graves), who faces the death penalty, confides that he has hidden $10,000 from a bank robbery. When Powell is released Harper has already been hanged, so the Preacher tracks down his widow and children in an attempt to get his hands on the loot.