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The Night of the Hunter Reviews

Page 1 of 91
Apeneck F

Super Reviewer

August 15, 2014
Charles Laughton, the formidable British actor, after years in the trade, made one feature as a director and this is it, layered like a fat juicy onion. A criminal malcontent disguised as a preacher goes on the hunt for some stolen loot, killing all who stand in his way, and there's your plot, but along the way Laughton pauses to comment on many and various things, not the least of which is how a poetically told story resonates. Like maybe in the old silent films ... and there is where this simple tale takes joyous flight. Mitchum leads as the heavy, but there are many fine performances here. Shelley Winters, cast against type, is marvelous, and Lillian Gish ( in case you missed the homage to the silents) underlines the point.
And, after all these years, still as vibrant a work.
Carlos M

Super Reviewer

May 25, 2014
This tense and bleak film noir, aesthetically mesmerizing and borrowing heavily from German Expressionism, is all the more surprising when you know that Laughton hated children - and while Mitchum is great as the expressionist villain, he seems though too one-dimensional to be truly menacing.
Edward B

Super Reviewer

February 10, 2010
The very definition of a film noir. Robert Mitchum is spectacular as psychotic preacher and serial killer Harry Powell. Few films actually earn the title "edge of your seat" but this dark and incredibly well made film by first (and only) time director Charles Laughton will certainly have you gripping both seat handles in suspense.
hunterjt13
hunterjt13

Super Reviewer

September 30, 2013
A phony preacher infiltrates a family in order to find hidden money.
I have trouble making sense of Charles Laughton's only directorial effort. On the one hand, the thrills - the film's construction as a suspense - is compelling and oftentimes frightening. The action sequences are well-choreographed, and the performance by Robert Mitchum makes the preacher seem like a predecessor of Hannibal Lector. On the other hand, there are clearly images of religious hypocrisy being deployed here, but there doesn't seem to be a coherent statement about faith's effects or faith as an affect. The foiling of Rachel Cooper and Harry Powell doesn't provide much insight about religion as a guise or a guide.
Overall, as a surface thriller, this is quite good, but I think one of us - the film or me - is missing something deeper.
Kevin C

Super Reviewer

February 23, 2013
erm
cosmo313
cosmo313

Super Reviewer

March 13, 2008
This is the first and only film directed by actor Charles Laughton, and it's a shame he didn't direct anything else, because this one is quite good.

A shady preacher named Harry Powell gets sent to jail. While there, he learns from his cell mate of a hidden stash of money that his kids know about. After the man is executed and Harry is released, he sets his sights on his late cell mate's family in order to get to the fortune. He's so determined that he'll do whatever it takes, even if that includes being nefarious...


This is a thrilling film, and it really does have it's moments of creepiness and tension, but I think it would have been far stronger had it been released in the 1970s. But, because it is from the 50s, it has to be toned down, which, in principle, I'm not against; my main beef is the music. It's all over the place, especially whre the tone of the film is concerned. It comes off as a major melodrama at times, and not in a good way, especially for something that is basically a hooror/chase movie.

That's my biggest complaint, and that's not a minor issue, either. I should be giving this a lower rating, but the rest of the film is so strong, especially the cinematography and Robert Mitchum's phenomenally creepy and superbly strong performance as Powell that I can't hate on it as much as I should. He is quite intense, and very memorable. Shelley Winters is okay, but not quite as strong. The real treat for me though was seeing silent film star Lillian Gish as a kindly old woman who shelters Powell's stepchildren, and has no qualms about wielding a shotgun...which is totally awesome.

All in all, this is a fine film, but would be undeniably better if the music were more consistent, and the film weren't burdened by rating restrictions. That said, they generally make the most of the situation, and the result is really great.
Spencer S

Super Reviewer

July 13, 2010
A highly stylized, classical noir, "Night of the Hunter" is one of the most gut wrenching, nausea inducing, and fear mongering films out there. This is not because this is a thriller, noir, and horror film combined, and not because of the creepy tone the film keeps in motion all the way through, but because this is simply a nightmare onscreen. In the beginning half of the film it stays in keeping with realism, setting up a backstory for the lowly, psychopathic Reverend Harry Powell. Because of censorship regulations for the time they couldn't make the villain into a preacher, so they made him a man pretending to be a preacher for his own criminal ends. Portrayed by classic western and noir villain Robert Mitchum, he is the most earnest and interesting villain in all of film history. The fear of his character is fed from two different sources: one, he is a religious figure so all suspicion or accusation is easily deflected, and because the main characters are children, he holds all the power. Two, he can always find the children in question, who run all the way down the river to get away from him and yet he finds them, on horseback, singing his melancholy hymns. The tone of the film comes from Charles Laughton's desire to place emphasis on German Expressionism, depicted in the lank shadows, stylization of dialogue, and the odd perspectives of both the children and the preacher. The film includes two original songs, a beautifully written and Oscar winning score, and shots of wildlife along the riverbed including owls, fauns, and the moonlit branches on swaying treetops. The nightmarish quality of the dreamy film was changed by the queer ending, uplifting and yet tragic. Shelley Winters as the children's fool brained and religious mother and Lillian Gish as an equally religious and loving woman supply amazing supporting performances and round out the two thematic halves of the film: love and hate, battling themselves in the story as well as between the hands of Reverend Harry Powell.
Bill D 2007
Bill D 2007

Super Reviewer

September 29, 2012
"The Night of the Hunter," one of only two films that Charles Laughton directed, has plenty of weaknesses. Its atrocious editing, strangely arch style, and awful, jarring use of music weaken it constantly. But it is also powerful and disturbing.

It must have been extremely shocking in its day, with its on-screen depiction of a mother having her throat slashed, followed by the killer stalking her two young children for miles, aiming to kill them, too. Rarely do movies put small children in this kind of mortal danger, much less drag it out for 30 grueling minutes. Watching a girl of about six struggle for her life at times made me feel like I couldn't breathe.

It took real guts for Robert Mitchum to take the role of this psycho. There was real potential for it to be a career killer. I suppose the only real casualty was Laughton, who never got another directing job. Mitchum continued to have a huge career, as did Shelley Winters, who plays the mother.

Notable also is Lillian Gish, who pops up in the last half-hour and nearly steals the movie from Mitchum. It's a travesty that her performance wasn't heralded more. She should have won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as a gun-toting grandmother who is willing to protect children by any means necessary. The way she puts her body between the children and their would-be murderer is thrilling. And terrifying.
paul o.
paul o.

Super Reviewer

August 30, 2012
For 1955, this film took religious stories to a new extreme. Having a pastor who was "tainted" by the devil and attempts to commit filicide is both creepy and demented. A classic that was crushed by critics when it first came out, this film has now grown comparisons to Shadow of a Doubt and is an important film in history.
axadntpron
axadntpron

Super Reviewer

November 9, 2011
Sad that this was a one off for Mr. Laughton. Everyone knows he was a terrific actor, but this film shows that he had some directing chops as well. Some of these scenes are shot so well that you cannot help but be saddened by the fact that we cannot see future work by the director. If Laughton was given more films to really let his abilities mature, then this film would be looked at as an early piece from a great American auteur, rather than an odd departure for a respected actor.
It is an odd film. The tone often vacillates between sweetness and sheer terror. Which is quite an accomplishment considering Mitchum's complex character. While we're on the subject of Mitchum, I cannot imagine another actor pulling off such a larger than life villain, without it seeming way too over the top. Mitchum just makes it look easy.
It may be an odd film, but I think it is the oddity that gives it originality. With originality comes the risk of turning off the masses. Yet, this film should not be looked at as a failure by any means even though it didn't rake in lots of money. It is a thoroughly impressive debut feature and a brief glimpse into what could have been a long, illustrious directing career, had money not gotten in the way.
Sanjay R

Super Reviewer

November 4, 2011
56 years later the movie is laughable, but once you get passed the restrictions that 1955 put on this film it is pretty good. It all depends on what context you take it in. I think it is a decent film thanks to Robert Mitchum.
Graham J

Super Reviewer

October 23, 2011
Great performance from Mitchum. Truly freaky and surprising subject matter for a film from 1955.
Lewis C

Super Reviewer

September 28, 2011
A charismatic, charming, psychopathic, murderous "man of God" charms his way into a family and menaces the children in order to find out the location of some hidden money.

The Night of the Hunter is an incredibly suspenseful and sinister movie, like a Hitchcock film in all the best ways. Great acting all around, especially from the kids, but Robert Mitchum steals the spotlight as Harry Powell, a villain for the ages. The cinematography is excellent too, with a few absolutely outstanding shots that show the beauty of what can be achieved in black and white.

I'll admit that the very end of The Night of the Hunter lost me slightly, it almost feels like it's from another movie entirely and just doesn't fit well with the tone of the rest of the film. But other than that quibble, this is yet another classic that I'm happy to finally have gotten to check out.
DragonEyeMorrison
DragonEyeMorrison

Super Reviewer

December 30, 2008
Childreeeen.....
garyX
garyX

Super Reviewer

May 17, 2007
A self-styled preacher and woman hating murderer insinuates himself into the life of a young widow whose husband stashed his stolen loot somewhere at his home. Night Of The Hunter has a lot to commend it; Robert Mitchum's creepy performance concretes his Cape Fear inspired reputation as film noir pyscho of choice and he is ably aided by a hollow eyed Shelley Winters as the unfortunate victim of his attentions and Lillian Gish as the goodhearted, wily old bird who ultimately proves his undoing. And as for the visuals, there are more stunning images to be seen in this single film than most directors manage in their entire career. Unfortunately, the performances of the children just don't measure up and seeing as they are the lynch pin of the entire story, this harms the film's effectiveness immeasurably. The constant Biblical references and hymn singing also wore on this confirmed atheist's nerves and some of the imagery is very heavy handed (OK OK, enough of the wildlife. I got the analogy from the deeply subtle title "night of the HUNTER"...) Maybe it was because I built this film up too much for myself, but as the film wore on and the suspense was replaced by saccharine I was left exasperated just as often as I was amazed. I'm certainly not sorry I've seen it and the imagery is truly spectacular but this is one of those "classics" I couldn't help feeling underwhelmed by.
JonathanHutchings
JonathanHutchings

Super Reviewer

February 11, 2011
Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter'' is one of the most instantly memorable films you'll ever see, but has never received the attention it deserves because of its lack of the proper trappings. Many memorable films are by great directors, but Laughton directed only this one film, which was a critical and commercial failure long overshadowed by his acting career. Many memorable movies use actors who come draped in respectability and prestige, but Robert Mitchum (who is excellent here, as usual) has always been a raffish outsider. And memorable movies are realistic, but "Night of the Hunter'' is an expressionistic oddity, telling its chilling story through visual fantasy. People don't know how to categorize it, so they leave it off their lists. That inability to define it is, to me, its greatest quality.

Its compelling, perplexing, frightening and beautiful all at the same time. Many films from the mid-1950s, even the good ones, seem somewhat dated now, but by setting his story in an invented movie world outside conventional realism, Laughton gave it a timelessness. Yes, the movie takes place in a small town on the banks of a river. But the town looks as artificial as a Christmas card scene, the family's house with its strange angles inside and out looks too small to live in, and the river becomes a set so obviously artificial it could have been built for a completely stylized studio film.

The shot of Shelley Winters at the bottom of the river is one of several remarkable images in the movie, which was photographed in black and white by Stanley Cortez, who shot Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons," and once observed he was "always chosen to shoot weird things.'' (that shot, also, is among the greatest shots I have ever seen, hands down). There's also a frightening composition that shows a street lamp casting Mitchum's terrifying shadow on the walls of the children's bedroom. The basement sequence combines terror and humor, as when the Preacher tries to chase the children up the stairs, only to trip, fall, recover, lunge and catch his fingers in the door. And the masterful nighttime river sequence uses giant foregrounds of natural details, like frogs and spider webs, to underline a kind of biblical progression as the children drift to eventual safety. Also, I have to finish by commenting on the brilliant casting choice of Lillian Gish (she herself a cinematic figure of biblical proportions. You can analyze the role of her character all day long, and she is just another example of how compelling this film truly is.
Michael G

Super Reviewer

September 29, 2006
I don't know how to convey the incredible magnificence of Night of the Hunter without coming across like a complete and total lunatic. First, it is a shame of biblical proportions that this was the only movie that Charles Laughton ever made. The man accomplished more in one movie than many directors ever pull off in their entire careers. The look of this movie is like a hellish fairy tale being told in a film noir setting. One of the most amazing-looking movies ever! Then you've got the performance of Robert Mitchum's career. (I would've like to have seen more of a fight out of him at the end but for the story's sake I'm kind of glad there wasn't...) I'm ashamed of myself for not liking this movie when I first saw it and am eternally thankful that Criterion re released it.
Jeremy S

Super Reviewer

November 6, 2006
One of the greatest films of all time! REV. HARRY POWELL (Robert Mitchum): "Would you like me to tell you the little story of right hand, left hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E. It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E. You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man - the right hand, friends, the hand of love."
AJ V

Super Reviewer

September 5, 2010
A really good thriller with a couple of kids who have to escape from a madman. The style, direction, and acting is really good. A must see movie.
Pierluigi P

Super Reviewer

June 13, 2007
Fascinating. one of the most twisted and terrifying encarnations of Robert Mitchum. I wonder why the great actor Charles Laughton never took the reins of direction again, after accomplishing such sinister and spellbinding tale, with the valuable help of cinematographer Stanley Cortez and his radically expressionistic and symbolic lightning.
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