Did you ever see a film that when it ends you realise you’ve not moved in your seat? I have. The Night of The Hunter is one such film. Charles Laughton’s only directorial outing stars the spellbinding Robert Mitchum as the epitome of brooding menace and undiluted evil. He is one of the greatest movie villains, killing widows for cash and satisfaction in the name of the Lord. Laughton called his film “a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale”. It’s better than that.
James Agee wrote the script to this haunting adaptation of Davis Grubb’s 1953 gothic novel.
Mitchum plays Reverend Harry Powell, a terrifying self-styled preacher on a mission to get at some stolen loot left by a family man hanged for his crimes. Creeping horror looms in the shadows. Stanley Cortez’s camerawork frames an otherworldly West Virginia. Unforgettable images linger: Love and Hate tattooed on Mitchum’s fingers; Mitchum riding a horse, their silhouette the only relief on a dark horizon; that submerged car carrying the dead robber’s wife Shelley Winters and Mitchum latest victim to the underworld; the children fleeing down the Ohio River, their plight seen through a spider’s web; the children’s saviour Lilian Gish sat on her stoop, gun on her lap and as she and Mitchum duet a hymn.