The Night of the Hunter; Thriller drama, USA, 1955; D: Charles Laughton, S: Billy Chapin, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Sally Jane Bruce, Lillian Gish
Harry Powell is a crazy psychopathic killer who hates women, but is dressed as a priest. Since he stole a car, he goes to jail for a few days where he meets the poor Ben who is sentenced to death. By talking to him, he discovers Ben stole 10.000 $ in order to feed his wife Willa and children Pearl and John. Back on the loose, Harry decides to find the money so he presents himself as a philanthropist and marries the widowed Willa. Pearl finds her new stepfather neat, but John forbids her to tell him that the money is hidden in her doll. Harry kills Willa and starts chasing the kids who run in a boat on the river. They arrive at a cottage of an old lady who adopts them. When Harry tries to attack them, he is caught by the police and sentenced to death.
The only directorial excursion of actor Charles Laughton - in which he incidentally didn't star in - is the atmospheric thriller-drama "The Night of the Hunter" that failed at the box office but quickly gained cult status with a reason: it's an excellent film about the abyss of double morals. The strange mood of the film is established already in the exposition with the strange killer Harry (Robert Mitchum) who talks with God: "God, you can't have anything against murders. Why, the Bible is full of them!" and has words "love" and "hate" written on his left and right fist, whereas it's especially subversive and symbolic that he disguises himself as a priest. Still, the main heroes are little children John and Pearl, characterized with a lot of natural touch and commons sense: for instance, Pearl innocently cuts off dollar bills in order to make shapes of people out of them, while it's interesting how John defends his father who was knocked down on the floor by the police, while he does the same towards the finale with Harry. Laughton's directorial calligraphy leans towards impressive expressionism and plays with light and shadows with inspiration, like when the shadow of the villain darkens the whole window, and thus it's a pity that Laughton didn't try out directing more often: he could have easily become the new Hitchcock, not only because of his size.Grade:+++