As The Times put it, "Story and style coalesce into a unique fairy tale," in this mannerist wonder of chilling Freudian allegory - "the closest a director has come to capturing the hypnotic, compelling potency of the kind of nightmares we have when we are children" (Sight & Sound).
The only directing effort from great actor Charles Laughton, it stars ROBERT MITCHUM in one of cinema's most memorable roles. With L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E tattooed on his knuckles, Harry Powell is an impotent, knife-wielding sociopath - an itinerant preacher who finances a dream of building his own tabernacle by slaughtering wealthy widows throughout the Depression hit Mid-West.
During a stint in prison, he hears about $10,000 that condemned bank robber, Ben Harper (PETER GRAVES), managed to stash away before being arrested. When his sentence is up, Powell heads off to Ohio where he smarms his way into the heart and home of Harper's wife, Willa (SHELLEY WINTERS). Not until they're married does Harry discover that only Ben's 10-year-old son, John (BILLY CHAPIN), knows where the loot's hidden, and the boy's not giving anything away, no matter how heavily Powell leans on him.
After the preacher has murdered their mother, John and his younger sister, Pearl (SALLY JANE BRUCE), escape, but are stalked all the way by Powell. Eventually they're offered sanctuary by golden-hearted old maid, Rachel (LILLIAN GISH), who shoots the preacher and has him arrested. But at the subsequent trial, John refuses to identify Powell.
Described by Time Out's Tom Charity as, "a beguiling, aberrant, unforgettable film," The Night Of The Hunter is based on Davis Grubb's best-selling novel, with Laughton writing much of the screenplay.
Together with Mitchum's extraordinary performance, Laughton's direction captures the menace of Grubb's Southern Gothic tale quite brilliantly. Today the film is revered as "A monochrome masterpiece, pure cinematic alchemy and just about every other superlative that spells genius"(Empire) and Derek Malcolm picked it for his list of the 100 greatest films.