The Night of the Hunter

1955

The Night of the Hunter

Critics Consensus

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

99%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 67

90%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 24,633
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Movie Info

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

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Critic Reviews for The Night of the Hunter

All Critics (67) | Top Critics (14)

  • It is doubtful that you will ever hear the old hymn, 'Learning,' again without recalling the gaunt, flapping figure of Preacher Powell as he lams it out in the dark night -- to the terror of the listening youngsters

    Jun 28, 2019 | Full Review…
  • It's overwrought and lurid; the story is grotesque and so are the characters. It's unlike anything else before and since. And that is why this strident psychological horror stands up now as one of the great pieces of American genre cinema.

    Oct 5, 2015 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Wendy Ide

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • One of the great movie horror tales, with one of the greatest of all movie villains.

    Oct 14, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • It is both Christian parable and folk tale, with its hymns, homilies, and orphans carried to safety by nature's benevolence; but it is also grounded in the social concerns of its makers.

    Jan 17, 2014 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • A stunning piece of work, with the shadows of German expressionism and a compositional sense comparable to the work of George Stevens: it trumps its own noir cynicism with a thrilling and plausible idealism in the final moments.

    Jan 16, 2014 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • It is a garish, unbelievable but fairly exciting nightmare.

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

Audience Reviews for The Night of the Hunter

  • Sep 11, 2017
    Not a bad thriller, but not a great one either. There are some creepy moments in this movie to be sure, and Robert Mitchum terrorizing two little kids will make you cringe or maybe have you urging them to run. The shot director Charles Laughton captures of Shelley Winters in the lake is excellent, and Mitchum's 'L-O-V-E' on the knuckles of one hand with 'H-A-T-E' on the knuckles of the other is iconic. Oh, and it was fantastic to see 62-year-old Lillian Gish, who turns in a suitably feisty performance. On the other hand, Laughton's direction is heavy-handed and clunky at times, and there are plot moments that just don't seem quite right. The acting ranges from poor to so-so, Mitchum included (though he certainly is a handsome fellow), and the soundtrack is too intrusive, annoyingly so in the jaunty bits. I hated the ending, which breaks out clichés like a torch-wielding mob and overdone Biblical verse. The movie was disturbing to audiences in 1955, likely because of the cruelty and evil shown in a man of the cloth, which made it not well received and caused Laughton to never direct again. I find it decent and worth seeing, but a little dated and lacking real horror.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 04, 2016
    It's intelligently written, exploring themes such religion and good versus evil while also being structurally innovative and experimental. However, what is so special about The Night of the Hunter has less to do with its excellent screenplay and more to do with the execution. The cast is phenomenal (Robert Mitchum is the stand out), and their performances are highlighted by an understated visual style, relying heavily on longer takes and little camera movement. Furthermore, this style also leads way to some of the most striking and beautiful imagery I have ever seen in a film. These images, many of which contain deep contrast and expert blocking, are not only haunting, but also incredibly effective in telling the story visually, rather than overly relying on dialogue. The Night of the Hunter is a celebration of cinema. The attention to detail in every single aspect makes for one of the best cinematic experiences I've ever had. If for nothing else, this film embodies the power of experimentation. In a world filled with so many derivative films, it is worth remembering how rewarding it can be when filmmakers step outside their comfort zone. As a viewer, you should, too.
    Joey T Super Reviewer
  • Aug 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.
    Kevin M. W 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.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer

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