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The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter is a 1953 novel by American author, Davis Grubb. The book was a national bestseller and was voted a finalist for the 1955 National Book Award. more...

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In 1955 a motion picture in the film noir style was made from the novel. It was adapted for the screen by James Agee and Charles Laughton. Laughton would also direct the film that has since been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. The film has had a tremendous influence on directors such as Jean Renoir, Terrence Malick and the Coen Brothers and can be seen in the lyrical and naturalistic style.

Primary cast:

  • Robert Mitchum  : Harry Powell
  • Shelley Winters  : Willa Harper
  • Lillian Gish  : Rachel Cooper
  • James Gleason  : Birdie Steptoe
  • Evelyn Varden  : Icey Spoon
  • Peter Graves  : Ben Harper
  • Don Beddoe  : Walt Spoon
  • Billy Chapin  : John Harper
  • Sally Jane Bruce  : Pearl Harper
  • Gloria Castillo  : Ruby

Plot overview

The film is set in West Virginia, along the Ohio River; the era is never explicitly stated, but seems to be during the Great Depression.

Mitchum portrays Harry Powell—one of his hands tattooed with "LOVE" on its knuckles, the other tattooed "HATE"—who shares a prison cell with Ben Harper (Graves). Harper is sentenced to hang for his part in a robbery, but hid the money from the robbery, and trusted his children John (Chapin) and Pearl (Bruce)—about ten and five years old, respectively—with the money's location.

Upon his release from prison, Powell masquerades as a preacher. He woos and marries Harper's widow, Willa (Winters) in order to obtain the robbery money, and eventually kills her. A famed scene shows the dead Willa, seated in a Model T at the bottom of a river.

The children, especially John, distrust and resist Powell. After their mother's death, they escape and find sanctuary with Rachel Cooper (Gish). Powell eventually finds them, however, and succeeds in learning the money's location from John after threatening Pearl. Just as he is about to escape, however, he is arrested by the police, whom Rachel had called. He is then tried for multiple murders and executed.

Response

Upon its release, Night of the Hunter was not a success with either audiences or critics. This response is probably a reason that the film was the only one Laughton ever directed.

Laughton drew heavily on the harsh, angular look of 1920s expressionist films, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and some sequences are very dreamlike.

Stanley Cortez' striking cinematography has been noted and imitated, and Mitchum's chilling and sinister performance has been especially praised.

Read more at Wikipedia.org


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