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The Night of the Hunter Reviews

Actor Charles Laughton's only directorial effort is a brilliantly eerie tale of religious madness, greed, innocence, and murder set in the rural Ohio River Basin during the Great Depression. Harry Powell (Mitchum), a psychopathic preacher with the word "Love" tattooed on the fingers of his right hand and "Hate" tattooed on the left, is driven by repressed sexual desires to murder women. While in jail for driving a stolen car, Powell meets young Ben Harper (Graves), a bank robber condemned to death for killing a man during a heist. Powell is certain Harper has stashed the loot ($10,000) from the robbery somewhere, but is unable to get Harper to reveal where. Powell is released shortly after Harper is executed, and the mad preacher tracks down his cellmate's widow, Willa (Winters). Powell soon persuades the idiotic Willa to marry him--much to the dismay of her son, John (Chapin), who senses what the preacher is really after and knows that the money is hidden inside one of the dolls of his sister, Pearl (Bruce). Powell soon becomes frustrated with the ignorant Willa and murders her, turning his attention to the children. John and Pearl take the doll and flee into the countryside with the murderous Powell always one step behind them. Working from a script by James Agee (THE AFRICAN QUEEN), Laughton created what he called "a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale," employing an eclectic mix of visual styles (German expressionism, D.W. Griffith) to convey both the horror of Powell's quest and the idyllic flight of the children to the safety of the farm of an old spinster (Gish). In addition to Stanley Cortez's stunning cinematography, the film boasts Robert Mitchum's greatest performance--a chilling essay that would unfortunately typecast him for much of his career. Beautiful, haunting, poetic, and intensely personal, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a unique, terrifying masterpiece. The adaptation of the Davis Grubb novel was the last film work by James Agee. Audiences didn't know what to make of this one; it bombed, and the great Laughton never directed again.