The Night of the Hunter

After getting pinched for grand-theft auto, serial-widow-killer/preacher Harry Powell (ROBERT MITCHUM) spends some quality time in the pokey with Ben Harper (PETER GRAVES), a father of two sentenced to death for killing two men and stealing $10,000. Preacher Powell takes note of the never-recovered cash, and upon his release makes his way into the heart of Harper's young widow Willa (SHELLEY WINTERS). Powell's scripture spouting routine fools everyone in town, except for Willa's young son John (BILLY CHAPIN) who kept a promise to his father to never reveal that the money is stashed in his kid sister Pearl's rag doll. Powell quickly dispenses of Willa with his trusty switchblade when she realizes that he only married for the money, and sets his sadistic sights on the two children. John and Pearl escape down the river in a rowboat, and eventually find refuge in a makeshift orphanage run by the salt-of-the-Earth Rachel Cooper (LILLIAN GISH). Equally versed in the Bible, Mrs. Cooper sees through Powell's wolf-in-sheep's-clothing façade, and brings the deplorable deacon to justice with the aid of her even trustier shotgun.THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER was, sadly, the only movie directed by veteran character actor CHARLES LAUGHTON ( THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS). It almost seems as if he took a page out of ORSON WELLES' CITIZEN KANE playbook, and ran down the field for a touchdown with his masterful use of black-and-white cinematography. The shots, coupled with the skillful use of shadows, provides the film with the much-needed tension that elevates it beyond your basic good-vs.-evil/ cat-and-mouse structure. Most of the movie feels and looks like a painting come to life

ROBERT MITCHUM is undeniable in the bad-ass department, but he really meets his match in the slight frame of LILLIAN GISH. There's something to be said about maternal instincts and the powers that they hold. GISH, although portraying a God-fearing lady, subtlety conveys a "DO NOT FUCK WITH ME, OR THESE CHILDREN!" sentiment with a cock of her eyes upon meeting MITCHUM on her porch. The scene in which she holds an all-night vigil in her rocker with a shotgun, while Powell is outside singing, and she finishes the chorus to the ditty, is the first sign of peace this tense film allows.


  • Mrs. Cooper surrounded by the chorus of disembodied kids heads in the opening sequence
  • Preacher Powell's explanation for the tattoos on his hands
  • SHELLEY WINTERS' watery grave scene in the car at the bottom of the lake
  • John & Pearl barely escaping Powell on the basement steps (Why isn't this movie credited for initiating that horror-flick staple?)
  • The lynch-mob scene (not unlike those featured on THE SIMPSONS) that forms outside of the courthouse
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
14 years ago

this is one of my favorite movies! so influential! and not just for inspiring losers everywhere to get love and hate tattoed on their hands!

Drew Bludd
Drew Bludd
9 years ago

I love the scene where John & Pearl first get away on the boat and Powell loses his cool with a guttural, animal-like squeal.