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Review: Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter

The film remains one of the most twisted evocations of godliness gone awry.

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The Night of the Hunter
Photo: United Artists

Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter remains one of the most twisted evocations of godliness gone awry. Laughton’s shadowy compositions and omniscient perspective (see the film’s transfixing point-of-view shots) suggest that the film’s characters are in the presence of God himself. Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) forgot his master’s will somewhere along the way to the local strip joint. A master of manipulation, he feeds on human naïvete, rewriting God’s grand designs to suit his own selfish needs. Before Ben Harper (Peter Graves) was arrested and sentenced to death, he stashed his stolen booty inside his little girl’s dolly, and as his father is pushed to the ground and hand-shackled by the law, little John (Billy Chapin) swears to never tell a soul. Sharing a prison cell with Powell, Harper spills his secret in his sleep and the dirty Reverend goes hunting for Harper’s widow (Shelly Winters), whom he subsequently destroys. Her little lambs, though, prove more difficult to dispose of. Guarded by Lillian Gish’s Mother Goose, the children survive Rev. Powell. Laughton’s delirious compositions evoke a Grimm landscape where love is constantly and erratically at war with the forces of hate. Perverse yet remarkably life-affirming, Night of the Hunter may be the best film ever made about spiritual perseverance.

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Everlyn Varden, Peter Graves, Don Beddoe, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce Director: Charles Laughton Screenwriter: James Agee Distributor: United Artists Running Time: 93 min Rating: NR Year: 1955 Buy: Video

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