THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) Directed by Charles Laughton; Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters
As a cinephile, it’s sad to admit that I’ve never watched The Night of the Hunter. Despite it appearing on many best-ofs (the best that sticks in my head is Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments list), I just hadn’t worked in any time to checking it out. In fact I have to say that aside from the 1990 remake of Cape Fear I actually haven’t watched many films with Robert Mitchum.
The film, which takes place in the 1930’s, seems to expose a certain hypocrisy of America inherent in small towns. When Reverend Harry Powell comes to a small town in West Virginia, he sets about charming the folks, who are impressed with both his knowledge of the Bible, and his ability to sing out a lovely hymn. The truth is that Powell is a sadistic serial killer with a penchant for killing widows and stealing their money. And he has his sights set on the widow of his former prison bunkmate, Ben Harper, who was hanged for killing two men during a robbery. He reveals to Powell that he hid away the money before he dies, but doesn’t tell him where.
He quickly gains trust of the widow Willa Harper, and they eventually marry. The sinister Reverend, with the iconic “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed on his knuckles, continues to press Willa’s children John and Pearl, as to the location of the $10,000.
As far as the look of the film, Laughton shot it in B&W, at a time when color was the common medium at the time. It lends a surreal aspect to the sets, letting the viewer know that this takes place on a stage, but never allowing it to take you out of the narrative. A gruesome scene that takes place about half way through the film has an almost painterly beauty to it.
Mitchum shines as the dastardly Reverend Powell. He quickly became, for me, one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time, a misogynistic creature with no remorse for his treatment of women, or in the pain he puts the children through.
The other highlight is that the children actors are a delight. I bought Billy Chapin as the reserved John, he doesn’t over act in his distrust for Powell, and Sally Jane Bruce as Pearl does well in her eager pursuit of approval from the only male figure in her life. A little girl who has just lost her Dad, and has replaced him with a dastardly father-figure.
I feel like anything else will reveal spoilers, and I definitely think this is a film that everyone should watch at least once. If I had a critique, it felt a tad bit like the ending was tacked on, wrapping things up a little nicer than they probably deserved to be but that’s minor considering the overall quality of the film