The Night of the Hunter (1955) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

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Critic Consensus: Featuring Robert Mitchum's formidable performance as child-hunting preacher, The Night of the Hunter is a disturbing look at good and evil.

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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 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. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Rating:
PG
Genre:
Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:

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Cast

Robert Mitchum
as Harry Powell
Shelley Winters
as Willa Harper
Peter Graves
as Ben Harper
Lillian Gish
as Rachel
Evelyn Varden
as Icey Spoon
James Gleason
as Birdie
Don Beddoe
as Walt Spoon
Corey Allen
as Young Man in Town
Paul Bryar
as Hangman Bart
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Critic Reviews for The Night of the Hunter

All Critics (62) | Top Critics (10)

One of the great movie horror tales, with one of the greatest of all movie villains.

Full Review… | October 14, 2014
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

It is a garish, unbelievable but fairly exciting nightmare.

Full Review… | October 7, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Ultimately the source of its style and power is mysterious -- it is a film without precedents, and without any real equals

Full Review… | August 28, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

This start for Gregory as producer and Laughton as director is rich in promise but the completed product, bewitching at times, loses sustained drive via too many offbeat touches that have a misty effect.

Full Review… | August 28, 2007
Variety
Top Critic

All this has been crisply compacted into clear screen drama by the late James Agee and it is put forth under the direction of Mr. Laughton in stark, rigid visual terms.

Full Review… | March 25, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

It's the most haunted and dreamlike of all American films, a gothic backwoods ramble with the Devil at its heels.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Night of the Hunter

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.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

½

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.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

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.

Edward Boxler
Edward Boxler

Super Reviewer

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