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The Night of the Hunter

Released: 1955

Genre: Mystery & Suspense

Runtime: 1 hr 32 min

MPAA Rating: NR

Director: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish

Charles Laughton’s brilliant directorial debut about a murderous preacher.

Mitchum is the standout performer.

Review by: TomElce

Added: 7 years ago

Film critic Ed Gonzalez calls The Night of the Hunter "one of the most twisted evocations of godliness gone awry" and it's hard to disagree. Robert Mitchum essays the corrupted preacher who infiltrates a broken family unit in hot pursuit of hidden treasures, director Charles Laughton coating his story of greed and murder in such palpable suspense that it suggests Hitchcock might not have been the ultimate master of suspense. Laughton never directed again (and died in 1962), but he left his mark. As much a triumph of visual brilliance as it is screenwriting craft, Night of the Hunter boasts a succession of images that stick in the head. When Mitchum's Harry Powell discovers his wife Willa Harper (Shelley Winters) knows he's in search of the money her former husband stashed away following a robbery, he dispatches of her in one of cinema's great murder scenes. She lays in bed and he towers over her, switchblade in hand -- and the way Laughton captures the scene is quite sublime. She didn't know where it was, but her son John (Billy Chapin) and daughter Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) do. Mitchum is the standout performer, calculatedly cruel in his efforts to make the children tell him where the $10,000 is. At one point, he holds John's head down and threatens to slash his throat. When they escape, he pursues them downriver, and Laughton orchestrates one of my favourite scenes of all time (one that ranks right up with the face-off at the end of Rear Window). John (holed up with Pearl in a barn) watches in horror as Powell's silhouette (atop a horse) looms in the distance, the titular hunter giving the hym "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" its most haunting cover. Fifty-four years old, The Night of the Hunter has lost none of its vigour.