Classic Scary Movie: Night of the Hunter

I recently rented a movie I have heard about for many years but never seen, Night of the Hunter. Robert Mitchum plays a “preacher” who romances widows for their money. When in jail he is cell mate with a man who stole $10,000 from a bank and hid the money on his farm. Mitchum’s Reverend Powell determines to find that money.

Directed by Charles Laughton, his one and only directorial effort, the film is both scary and…weird. It has incredible black and white imagery. Laughton must have watched every German Expressionist film ever made and taken notes. This is both a good and a bad thing for the film. There are many scary images of Rev. Powell menacing the children of his cell mate, who know where the money is. On the other hand, Laughton goes off the deep end with bunnies and other wildlife along the banks of the river as the children escape. I suspect they were meant to symbolize innocence, but too much symbolism spoils the broth of this movie.

A shot of the children’s mother, (Shelley Winters) dead in her car underwater and with her hair flowing in the current of the river, is an amazing, beautiful image. There are a number of great images in the movie. However, I think Laughton let this Expressionistic, beautiful image side of the film overpower the actual story.

The children are taken in by Lillian Gish, who is sort of a cat lady but with kids. She takes in random orphans. It’s the depression, so there are a lot of them. I still have not figured out why the townspeople chase Gish and the kids after Mitchum is caught, as if she has done something wrong.

Anyone who likes classic scary movies should see this, and anyone who likes gorgeous black and white images. Mitchum gives a great performance and is very frightening. The film was a flop and Laughton never directed again. I think he should have concentrated on the story more and left some of the other stuff behind, but if he did maybe we wouldn’t still remember this film so many years later.


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