News | Films | Life | Legacy | Photos | Store | Links | About This Site

The Night of the Hunter

Year: 1955
Studio: United Artists
Director: Charles Laughton
Cast (in credits order):
Robert Mitchum ... Harry Powell
Shelley Winters ... Willa Harper
Lillian Gish ... Rachel
Evelyn Varden ... Icey
Billy Chapin ... John Harper
Sally Jane Bruce ... Pearl Harper
Peter Graves ... Ben Harper
James Gleason ... Birdie

Watch the original trailer on

Plot synopsis: In the Depression-era South, Preacher Harry Powell, who specializes in seducing and murdering widows, goes fortune-hunting for hidden bank loot at Willa Harper's house and squares off with her son John.

Verdict: Mitchum is hauntingly scary as Harry Powell, the stuff of every child's nightmare -- even scarier because only children can see the wolf under the sheep's clothing. Standout scenes include him showing the story of 'love' and 'hate' -- the letters of which are tattooed on his knuckles -- by wrestling his right hand with his left. His performance is stylized, even cartoonish, but is perfectly in keeping with the film's fairy-tale atmosphere.

Behind the Scenes: This was actor Charles Laughton's only time behind the camera. Reportedly, he was uncomfortable directing the children, so Mitchum stepped in to help out. Laughton convinced Mitchum to tone down his performance, so that mothers wouldn't snatch their children out of his presence afterward!

Recognition: Ranked at #34 on the the American Film Institute's "100 Years ... 100 Thrills" list.
Mitchum's performance as Harry Powell ranked at #29 on its list of "100 Years ... Heroes & Villains."

Pop Culture Impact: Just a few places the "L-O-V-E" and "H-A-T-E" tattoes turn up again:

Remake: Richard Chamberlain, known for playing sensitive types in The Thorn Birds and Shogun, stepped into Mitchum's big shoes as Preacher Harry Powell in a muted, realistic 1991 TV movie version of Grubb's novel.

If You Liked This Movie, You Might Also Like: Cape Fear, Five Card Stud, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Fugitive Kind with Marlon Brando, Something Wicked This Way Comes with Jonathan Pryce, The Window with Bobby Driscoll



BFI Companion Book Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter The Night of the Hunter: A Biography of a Film