Night of the Hunter

Night of the Hunter

4.3 21
Director: Charles Laughton

Cast: Charles Laughton, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish


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Adapted by James Agee from a novel by Davis Grubb, The Night of the Hunter represented legendary actor Charles Laughton's only film directing effort. Combining stark realism with Germanic expressionism, the movie is a brilliant good-and-evil parable, with "good" represented by a couple of farm kids and a pious old lady, and "evil" literally in the hands of a…  See more details below


Adapted by James Agee from a novel by Davis Grubb, The Night of the Hunter represented legendary actor Charles Laughton's only film directing effort. Combining stark realism with Germanic expressionism, the movie is a brilliant good-and-evil parable, with "good" represented by a couple of farm kids and a pious old lady, and "evil" literally in the hands of a posturing psychopath. Imprisoned with thief Ben Harper (Peter Graves), phony preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) learns that Ben has hidden a huge sum of money somewhere near his home. Upon his release, the murderously misogynistic Powell insinuates himself into Ben's home, eventually marrying his widow Willa (Shelley Winters). Eventually all that stands between Powell and the money are Ben's son (Billy Chapin) and daughter (Sally Jane Bruce), who take refuge in a home for abandoned children presided over by the indomitable, scripture-quoting Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish). The war of wills between Mitchum and Gish is the heart of the film's final third, a masterful blend of horror and lyricism. Laughton's tight, disciplined direction is superb -- and all the more impressive when one realizes that he intensely disliked all child actors. The music by Walter Schumann and the cinematography of Stanley Cortez are every bit as brilliant as the contributions by Laughton and Agee. Overlooked on its first release, The Night of the Hunter is now regarded as a classic.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Kryssa Schemmerling
Part melodrama, part horror movie, part fairy tale, Night of the Hunter unfolds like a fever dream in an American landscape both nightmarish and magical. This almost unbearably suspenseful tale -- the only solo screenplay that critic James Agee ever wrote and the only film that actor Charles Laughton (Ruggles of Redgap) ever directed -- is a cinematic experience unlike any other. Robert Mitchum gives his most indelible performance here as a psychotic preacher with "love" and "hate" tattooed on each of his hands. After charming a small-town widow into marrying him, he proceeds to terrorize her children in order to get hold of the money left to them by their dead father. The peerless Lillian Gish is moving and magnificent as the elderly woman who becomes the children's physical and spiritual guardian. Photographed by Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons) with shimmering light and deep shadows that eloquently express the story's themes of good and evil, sin and redemption, Night of the Hunter is a beautiful, startling, and unforgettable film.
All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
Actor Charles Laughton directed only one movie during his 36 years in show business, and he certainly made his lone effort memorable; The Night of the Hunter is a strange, chilling, and uniquely compelling work that resembles no other American film of its era. Superbly shot by ace cinematographer Stanley Cortez, the film was obviously influenced by the look of German expressionist cinema, but Cortez and Laughton took the style's visual devices and reshaped them for their own purposes. The result is a film that resembles a reflected dream of childhood, foreign and troubling yet also very beautiful. Laughton drew a stunning performance from Robert Mitchum, who drops his usual veneer of casual cool and becomes disquietingly psychotic man of the cloth Harry Powell; his rapt sermon about the battle between love and hatred, and his murder of his new bride (Shelley Winters), rank with the most powerful and deeply etched moments of Mitchum's career. Legend has it that Laughton, who didn't care for children, instructed Mitchum to direct Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce as the luckless Harper siblings, and, if it's true, Mitchum coaxed a pair of unusually naturalistic and affecting performances from his youthful co-stars, who never play "cute." Lillian Gish is a tower of both strength and compassion as Rachel Cooper, the saintly flip side to Mitchum's dark perversity; in a world where even the most loving and honorable adults have gone astray, Rachel alone offers love and protection without judgment to young people who need it, and Powell's venal, misogynist brutality are no match for her spiritual courage. It's a pity that Laughton never followed up on this remarkable debut; many long and successful careers have been launched by movies not half as impressive as The Night of the Hunter.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[B&W, Wide Screen]
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Special Features

Disc One: New Documentary featuring interviews with Producer Paul Gregory, Sanders, Feeney, Jones, and Author Jeffrey Couchman; New Video Interview with Laughton Biographer Simon Callow; Clip from The Ed Sullivan Show in which cast members perform a scene deleted from the film; Fifteen-Minute archival documentary about the film, featuring Robert Mitchum; Archival Interview with Cinematographer Stanley Cortez; Gallery of Sketches by Davis Grubb, author of the source novel; Original Theatrical Trailer; ; Disc Two: Charles Laughton Directs "The Night of the Hunter," a two-and-half-hour treasure trove of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage; New Video Conversation Gitt and Film Critic Leonard Maltin about Charles Laughton Directs; ; Plus a Booklet featuring essays by critics Terrence Rafferty and Michael Sragow

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Robert Mitchum Preacher Harry Powell
Shelley Winters Willa Harper
Lillian Gish Rachel Cooper
Billy Chapin John Harper
Evelyn Varden Icey Spoon
Peter Graves Ben Harper
James Gleason Uncle Birdie
Sally Jane Bruce Pearl Harper
Don Beddoe Walt Spoon
Gloria Castillo Ruby
Mary Ellen Clemons Clary
Cheryl Callaway Mary
Corey Allen Young Man in Town
Paul Bryar Hangman Bart
Walter Schumann Conductor

Technical Credits
Charles Laughton Director
James Agee Screenwriter
Jerry Bos Costumes/Costume Designer
Hilyard M. Brown Art Director
Evelyn Carruth Costumes/Costume Designer
Don L. Cash Makeup
Stanley Cortez Cinematographer
Louis de Witt Special Effects
Robert Golden Editor
Paul Gregory Producer
Jack R. Rabin Special Effects
Ruby Rosenberg Production Manager
Walter Schumann Score Composer,Musical Direction/Supervision
Alfred E. Spencer Set Decoration/Design

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Night of the Hunter
1. Opening Credits [1:54]
2. "Beware Of False Prophets" [3:45]
3. "You're Bleedin', Dad!" [2:34]
4. Cell Mates [4:20]
5. Cresap's Landing [3:26]
6. Uncle Birdie [2:13]
7. "The Little Story of Right Hand, Left Hand" [2:48]
8. Sunday Picnic [3:58]
9. "You'll Never Be My Dad!" [3:22]
10. Wedding Night [4:10]
11. Revival Meeting [:57]
12. Secrets [7:47]
13. "Willa Has Run Away" [3:49]
14. Life with the Preacher [8:58]
15. Escape Down the River [7:16]
16. "Don't He Never Sleep?" [6:05]
17. Miz Cooper [6:46]
18. Ruby Meets a Man in Town [3:07]
19. Harry Powell Arrives [3:02]
20. "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" [2:10]
21. "I Got Somethin' Trapped in My Barn" [3:32]
22. "Lynch him? Lynch him!" [2:52]
23. Christmas with Miz Cooper [4:12]
1. Color Bars [:00]
1. Introductions [1:54]
2. Mitchum's Unease [3:45]
3. Rhyming Effects [2:34]
4. Humorous Villainy [4:20]
5. Schumann's Themes [3:26]
6. The Other Uncle Birdie [2:13]
7. A Delayed Battle [2:48]
8. Gary Cooper/Paul Gregory [3:58]
9. The Boy's Point of View [3:22]
10. "Valse Triste" [4:10]
11. A Hunk of Muslin [:57]
12. Laughton and the Children [7:47]
13. Dummies and Masks [3:49]
14. The Cellar Set [8:58]
15. The Heart of the Film [7:16]
16. Forced Perspective [6:05]
17. Mother Goose [6:46]
18. Production at Dinner [3:07]
19. Mitchum Comes Back [3:02]
20. Mitchum and Gregory [2:10]
21. Laughton's Decisions [3:32]
22. The Lynch Mob [2:52]
23. The Film's Demise [4:12]
1. Color Bars [:00]
Disc #2 -- Night Of The Hunter
1. Laughton Reads the Sermon on the Mount [3:02]
2. The Players [6:51]
3. Robert Mitchum [3:09]
4. The Children and Peter Graves [17:00]
5. Shelley Winters [6:27]
6. Evelyn Varden [1:45]
7. Don Beddoe [6:12]
8. Wedding Night [10:21]
9. Two Uncles [18:50]
10. One Line [12:51]
11. Underwater [:52]
12. Secrets [19:37]
13. Escape Down the River [8:15]
14. Lillian Gish [10:54]
15. Gloria Castilo [2:49]
16. Harry Powell Arrives [5:50]
17. "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" [2:42]
18. "I Got Somethin' Trapped in my Barn" [5:47]
19. "Lynch Him! Lynch Him!" [2:51]
20. Christmas with Miz Cooper [3:16]
21. Filming the Introduction [1:27]
22. After the Film [8:01]

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The Night of the Hunter 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first heard the story read on WNYC in NY in 1957 by Charles Laughton. It scared my socks off. Then, I saw the film and although I knew what was coming, Mitchum scared my socks off all over again. It is the best of its kind. It is exceptionally good for children over 10. They can see the worst and the best in human nature as well as true love, responsibility, caring for family members and the victory of the meek over the vicious. Great good and evil metaphor. The entire cast is perfect. Not a vulgar word or allusion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
"The Night of the Hunter" is one of the utterly unique experiences the movies can offer, a wild concoction of fantastic, expressionistic, even surrealistic imagery. The only film directed by legendary actor Charles Laughton is a primal fable about two children, John and Pearl, menaced by a crazed preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) who marries their mother Willa Harper (Shelley Winters) as part of his plan to coax (or force) their secret from them: where they've hidden the stash of stolen money their father left with them before he was arrested. The American Gothic, Biblical tale of seduction, sin and corruption was based on a novel by Davis Grubb and adapted for the screen by famed writer-author James Agee (and Laughton, but without screen credit). Although recognized today as one of the greatest American films of all time, the imaginatively-chilling, experimental, sophisticated work was originally a critical and commercial failure, both ignored and misunderstood at the time of its release in 1955. From its start, the film is designed to have the special feeling of a child's nightmare, including the difficulty of keeping a secret, and a magical journey to safety—all told from a child's point of view. It also accentuates the contrasting, elemental dualities within the film: heaven and earth (or under-the-earth), male and female, light and dark, good and evil, knowingness and innocence, and other polarizations including equating the preacher with the devil. "The Night of the Hunter" is part fairy tale and part bogeyman thriller--a juicy allegory of evil, greed and innocence, told with an eerie visual poetry. Drawing on sources as diverse as rural American fable, this is a strange, tense and at times dream-like film that sends a shiver down the spine. In one of the film's greatest visual sequences, the children, Pearl and John, float softly down a moonlit river, bound for an unseen providence. Laughton and cinematographer Stanley Cortez (who also shot Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" in 1942), film the children from the riverbank, placing a series of images--a frog, a spider's web, two rabbits--boldly in the foreground. In other sections, "The Night of the Hunter" borrows its visual motifs from the silent films of D.W. Griffith and the German Expressionist cinema of the '20s. Laughton plays with the long, slanted shadows of film noir, and in Willa Harper's A-shaped bedroom creates a Gothic chamber with showers of celestial light. Described by Laughton as a "nightmarish Mother Goose", this profoundly disturbing psychodrama marked both the beginning and the end of his career as a director. Driven by a performance by Mitchum that goes a long way to defining on-screen evil, both tone and tale are absolutely compelling throughout. Laughton's picture looks different from other noir films of the period--though Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" (1951) with its unusual camera angles, and Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing" (1956), with its multiplane staging (with props located between the characters and the camera), use similar ideas. However, his characters ARE different. In 1955, critics complained the film was self-consciously arty and too vague because of all the symbols. The resulting box office was so dismal that the depressed Laughton quit working on his second film, an adaptation of "The Naked and the Dead", and never dared direct another film. So he stands as one of the few directors whose batting average for masterpieces is 1.000. [filmfactsman]
awfulaudrey More than 1 year ago
This undoubtedly is the scariest movie ever made. No grue, no gore, just an ordinary looking setting in which the developing terror rises and rises! I saw this when I was in high school. Scre-e-e-e-e-e-am!
talullah More than 1 year ago
This movie has all the suspense, erie drama,mystery,good acting, good story telling,good direction,that one can ask for.....even in B&W...I can watch this movie over and over.M
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Creepy atmosphere, wonderfully frightening in a very film-noir way. Wow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This movie portrays a the classic good vs evil conflict. It provides realistic terror with out the aid of blood or computer generated monsters. The excellent direction and the acting make this possible. This is a classic ''scary movie''.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I was a young child I read Davis Grubb's book in Reader's Digest Condensed version and while it scared me silly, I greatly enjoyed it for the mental images it evoked and for its basic morality. I never saw Mitchum in this film until - believe it or not - only about five or six years ago and his portrayal of Harry Powell was truly amazing. I subsequently visited my public library and read the novel - in full - and brought back all the magic, wonder and fear I'd thrilled to when only a youngster. The film will enchant all who see it, I know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The Night of the Hunter" proves that classic thriller film has an illustrous effect to its viewers. Fundamentalist charlatan Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is looking for the money that his inmate revealed whiel he's detained. As the inmate said, he left it with his two young children. Robert Mitchum villain's characterization is notable. It is Lillian Gish's Rachel Cooper that is outstanding even she appears at only limited time. I'm waiting that this classic has a remake someday...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I expected something great of this film and came away from it feeling that Laughton failed utterly in an apparent attempt to create an iconic masterpiece along the lines of Citizen Kane or The Grapes of Wrath. 'Hunter' is not literary, beautiful to look at, scary, well-acted or fun in any way. It's not surprising to learn that Laughton hated child actors because the kids in this film were absolutely wooden, as if they were miserable on the set. The adult performers don't fare much better; many of their lines are delivered as if in a first reading of the script with no director present. Lillian Gish is obviously meant to be the glue of "legitimacy" that keeps this hodge-podge of influences from Welles to Steinbeck, Faulkner, John Ford and Tennessee Williams lurching to a conclusion. Bob Mitchum reliably provides the juice -- perhaps it's understandable after all that Laughton gave short shrift everywhere else...