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The Night of the Hunter (film)

The Night of the Hunter (film)

Overview
The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American thriller film directed by Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton was an English-American stage and film actor, screenwriter, producer and director.-Early life and career:...

 and starring Robert Mitchum
Robert Mitchum
Robert Charles Durman Mitchum was an American film actor, author, composer and singer and is #23 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male American screen legends of all time...

 and Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters was an American actress who appeared in dozens of films, as well as on stage and television; her career spanned over 50 years until her death in 2006...

. The film is based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb
Davis Grubb
Davis Grubb was an American novelist and short story writer.-Biography:Born in Moundsville, West Virginia, Grubb wanted to combine his creative skills as a painter with writing and as such attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...

, adapted for the screen by James Agee
James Agee
James Rufus Agee was an American author, journalist, poet, screenwriter and film critic. In the 1940s, he was one of the most influential film critics in the U.S...

 and Laughton. The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers
Harry Powers
Harry F. Powers , also known as Cornelius O. Pierson and A. R. Weaver, was a convicted serial killer who was hanged in Clarksburg, West Virginia, in 1932. He lured his victims through "Lonely Hearts" ads saying he was looking for love, but in reality intended to take his victims' money and then...

, hanged in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia
Clarksburg, West Virginia
Clarksburg is a city in and the county seat of Harrison County, West Virginia, United States, in the north-central region of the state. It is the principal city of the Clarksburg, WV Micropolitan Statistical Area...

. The film's lyric and expressionistic style sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 50s, and it has influenced later directors such as David Lynch
David Lynch
David Keith Lynch is an American filmmaker, television director, visual artist, musician and occasional actor. Known for his surrealist films, he has developed his own unique cinematic style, which has been dubbed "Lynchian", and which is characterized by its dream imagery and meticulous sound...

, Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese
Martin Charles Scorsese is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film historian. In 1990 he founded The Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation, and in 2007 he founded the World Cinema Foundation...

, Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick
Terrence Frederick Malick is a U.S. film director, screenwriter, and producer. In a career spanning almost four decades, Malick has directed five feature films....

, Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch
James R. "Jim" Jarmusch is an American independent film director, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor and composer. Jarmusch has been a major proponent of independent cinema, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s.-Early life:...

, the Coen brothers
Coen Brothers
Joel David Coen and Ethan Jesse Coen known together professionally as the Coen brothers, are American filmmakers...

, Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie is an American musician, film director, screenwriter and film producer. He founded the heavy metal band White Zombie and has been nominated three times as a solo artist for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.Zombie has also established a career as a film director, creating the...

, and Spike Lee
Spike Lee
Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983....

.

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 and was selected for preservation in its National Film Registry
National Film Registry
The National Film Registry is the United States National Film Preservation Board's selection of films for preservation in the Library of Congress. The Board, established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, was reauthorized by acts of Congress in 1992, 1996, 2005, and again in October 2008...

.

The film is set in 1930s
1930s
File:1930s decade montage.png|From left, clockwise: Dorothea Lange's photo of the homeless Florence Thompson show the effects of the Great Depression; Due to the economic collapse, the farms become dry and the Dust Bowl spreads through America; The Battle of Wuhan during the Second Sino-Japanese...

 West Virginia
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

, along the Ohio River
Ohio River
The Ohio River is the largest tributary, by volume, of the Mississippi River. At the confluence, the Ohio is even bigger than the Mississippi and, thus, is hydrologically the main stream of the whole river system, including the Allegheny River further upstream...

.
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Quotations

There are too many of them. Can't kill the world.

The Lord blinded mine enemies when they brought me in this evil place...I come not with peace, but with a sword...This sword has served me through many an evil time.

Lord, you sure knowed what You was doin' when You put me in this very cell at this very time. A man with $10,000 hid somewhere and a widow in the makin'.

[to the Spoons about Willa, after saying she ran off] It's my shame. It's my crown of thorns. I must wear it bravely...She'll not be back. I reckon I'm safe in promising you that. I tried to save her...But the devil wins sometimes. Can't nobody say I didn't do my best to save her.

Chilld - ren. Chilld - ren?

I can hear you whisperin', children, so I know you're down there. I can feel myself gettin' awful mad. I'm out of patience, children. I'm coming to find you now.

[to Pearl] No, no. No little lamb. Don't touch it. Now, don't touch my knife. That makes me mad. That makes me very, very mad. Now just tell me, where's the money hid? [banging his hand on the table] John doesn't matter! Can't I get that through your head, you poor silly, disgusting little wretch! [Pearl begins to cry] There now, you made me lose my temper. I'm sorry. I'm real sorry. Now just tell me, where's it hid, honey?

[singing] Leaning, leaning!Safe and secure from all alarms!Leaning, leaning!Leaning on the everlasting arms!

Encyclopedia
The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American thriller film directed by Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton was an English-American stage and film actor, screenwriter, producer and director.-Early life and career:...

 and starring Robert Mitchum
Robert Mitchum
Robert Charles Durman Mitchum was an American film actor, author, composer and singer and is #23 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male American screen legends of all time...

 and Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters was an American actress who appeared in dozens of films, as well as on stage and television; her career spanned over 50 years until her death in 2006...

. The film is based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb
Davis Grubb
Davis Grubb was an American novelist and short story writer.-Biography:Born in Moundsville, West Virginia, Grubb wanted to combine his creative skills as a painter with writing and as such attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...

, adapted for the screen by James Agee
James Agee
James Rufus Agee was an American author, journalist, poet, screenwriter and film critic. In the 1940s, he was one of the most influential film critics in the U.S...

 and Laughton. The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers
Harry Powers
Harry F. Powers , also known as Cornelius O. Pierson and A. R. Weaver, was a convicted serial killer who was hanged in Clarksburg, West Virginia, in 1932. He lured his victims through "Lonely Hearts" ads saying he was looking for love, but in reality intended to take his victims' money and then...

, hanged in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia
Clarksburg, West Virginia
Clarksburg is a city in and the county seat of Harrison County, West Virginia, United States, in the north-central region of the state. It is the principal city of the Clarksburg, WV Micropolitan Statistical Area...

. The film's lyric and expressionistic style sets it apart from other Hollywood films of the 1940s and 50s, and it has influenced later directors such as David Lynch
David Lynch
David Keith Lynch is an American filmmaker, television director, visual artist, musician and occasional actor. Known for his surrealist films, he has developed his own unique cinematic style, which has been dubbed "Lynchian", and which is characterized by its dream imagery and meticulous sound...

, Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese
Martin Charles Scorsese is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film historian. In 1990 he founded The Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation, and in 2007 he founded the World Cinema Foundation...

, Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick
Terrence Frederick Malick is a U.S. film director, screenwriter, and producer. In a career spanning almost four decades, Malick has directed five feature films....

, Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch
James R. "Jim" Jarmusch is an American independent film director, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor and composer. Jarmusch has been a major proponent of independent cinema, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s.-Early life:...

, the Coen brothers
Coen Brothers
Joel David Coen and Ethan Jesse Coen known together professionally as the Coen brothers, are American filmmakers...

, Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie is an American musician, film director, screenwriter and film producer. He founded the heavy metal band White Zombie and has been nominated three times as a solo artist for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.Zombie has also established a career as a film director, creating the...

, and Spike Lee
Spike Lee
Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983....

.

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 and was selected for preservation in its National Film Registry
National Film Registry
The National Film Registry is the United States National Film Preservation Board's selection of films for preservation in the Library of Congress. The Board, established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, was reauthorized by acts of Congress in 1992, 1996, 2005, and again in October 2008...

.

Plot


The film is set in 1930s
1930s
File:1930s decade montage.png|From left, clockwise: Dorothea Lange's photo of the homeless Florence Thompson show the effects of the Great Depression; Due to the economic collapse, the farms become dry and the Dust Bowl spreads through America; The Battle of Wuhan during the Second Sino-Japanese...

 West Virginia
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

, along the Ohio River
Ohio River
The Ohio River is the largest tributary, by volume, of the Mississippi River. At the confluence, the Ohio is even bigger than the Mississippi and, thus, is hydrologically the main stream of the whole river system, including the Allegheny River further upstream...

. Ben Harper (Peter Graves
Peter Graves (actor)
Peter Aurness , known professionally as Peter Graves, was an American film and television actor. He was best known for his starring role in the CBS television series Mission: Impossible from 1967 to 1973...

) is sentenced to hang
Hanging
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

 for his part in a robbery
Robbery
Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear. At common law, robbery is defined as taking the property of another, with the intent to permanently deprive the person of that property, by means of force or fear....

 in which two men were killed. Before he is caught he hides the stolen money, trusting only his son John (Billy Chapin
Billy Chapin
Billy Chapin is an American former child actor, known for a considerable number of screen- and TV-performances from 1943 to 1959 and best remembered for both his roles as the “Diaper-manager” Christie Cooper in the 1953 family feature The Kid from Left Field, starring Dan Dailey, Anne Bancroft and...

), the main character of the story, with the money's location. John has a much younger sister, Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce
Sally Jane Bruce
Sally Jane Bruce is an American former child performer, best known for playing little Pearl Harper in Charles Laughton's 1955 film noir The Night of the Hunter.-Life and career:...

). Reverend Harry Powell
Reverend Harry Powell
Reverend Harry Powell is a fictional character in Davis Grubb's 1953 novel The Night of the Hunter. He was portrayed by Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton's 1955 film adaptation, and by Richard Chamberlain in the 1991 made for TV remake...

 (Robert Mitchum
Robert Mitchum
Robert Charles Durman Mitchum was an American film actor, author, composer and singer and is #23 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male American screen legends of all time...

), a serial killer
Serial killer
A serial killer, as typically defined, is an individual who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with down time between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is usually based on psychological gratification...

 and self-appointed preacher with the two words "LOVE" and "HATE" tattoo
Tattoo
A tattoo is made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. Tattoos on humans are a type of body modification, and tattoos on other animals are most commonly used for identification purposes...

ed across the fingers/knuckles of his right and left hands, shares a prison cell with Harper. He tries to get Harper to tell him the hiding place before his execution, but the only clue he gets is a Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 verse Harper mutters in his sleep: "And a little child shall lead them."

Convinced that Harper told his children the secret, Powell woos and marries Harper's widow, Willa (Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters was an American actress who appeared in dozens of films, as well as on stage and television; her career spanned over 50 years until her death in 2006...

). Willa does not know her new husband's motive and believes her marriage will lead to her salvation. Powell asks the children about the money when they are alone, but they reveal nothing. John is suspicious of Powell and protective of his sister. One night Willa overhears her husband questioning the children and she realizes the truth. As she lies in bed that night in their attic bedroom, Powell leans over her and slits her throat.

Powell dumps her body in the river. He finally learns the money's location from Pearl by threatening John, but the children flee with the money down the river. They eventually find sanctuary with Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish
Lillian Diana Gish was an American stage, screen and television actress whose film acting career spanned 75 years, from 1912 to 1987....

), a tough old woman who looks after stray children. Powell eventually tracks them down, but Rachel sees through his false virtue. After a climactic standoff, in which Rachel protects the children with a shotgun but sings hymns through the night with Powell, he is arrested by the police and put to death for the murder of Willa and for the crimes against the children. Towards the end of the film, Rachel declares that "children are man at his strongest. They abide." The film ends with her speaking directly to camera: "They abide and they endure."

Cast

  • Robert Mitchum
    Robert Mitchum
    Robert Charles Durman Mitchum was an American film actor, author, composer and singer and is #23 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest male American screen legends of all time...

     as Reverend Harry Powell
    Reverend Harry Powell
    Reverend Harry Powell is a fictional character in Davis Grubb's 1953 novel The Night of the Hunter. He was portrayed by Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton's 1955 film adaptation, and by Richard Chamberlain in the 1991 made for TV remake...

  • Shelley Winters
    Shelley Winters
    Shelley Winters was an American actress who appeared in dozens of films, as well as on stage and television; her career spanned over 50 years until her death in 2006...

     as Willa Harper
  • Lillian Gish
    Lillian Gish
    Lillian Diana Gish was an American stage, screen and television actress whose film acting career spanned 75 years, from 1912 to 1987....

     as Rachel Cooper
  • Billy Chapin
    Billy Chapin
    Billy Chapin is an American former child actor, known for a considerable number of screen- and TV-performances from 1943 to 1959 and best remembered for both his roles as the “Diaper-manager” Christie Cooper in the 1953 family feature The Kid from Left Field, starring Dan Dailey, Anne Bancroft and...

     as John Harper
  • Evelyn Varden
    Evelyn Varden
    Evelyn Varden was an American actress.Evelyn Varden had a long and distinguished career on Broadway despite starring in the ill-fated Return Engagement by Lawrence Riley...

     as Icey Spoon
  • Peter Graves
    Peter Graves (actor)
    Peter Aurness , known professionally as Peter Graves, was an American film and television actor. He was best known for his starring role in the CBS television series Mission: Impossible from 1967 to 1973...

     as Ben Harper
  • Sally Jane Bruce
    Sally Jane Bruce
    Sally Jane Bruce is an American former child performer, best known for playing little Pearl Harper in Charles Laughton's 1955 film noir The Night of the Hunter.-Life and career:...

     as Pearl Harper
  • James Gleason
    James Gleason
    James Austin Gleason was an American actor born in New York City. He was also a playwright and screenwriter.-Career:...

     as Birdie Steptoe
  • Don Beddoe
    Don Beddoe
    -Career:Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Beddoe made his Broadway acting debut in 1929, receiving top billing in Nigger Rich....

     as Walt Spoon
  • Gloria Castillo
    Gloria Castillo
    Gloria Castillo is an American stage and motion picture actress of the 1950s.Castillo was born in Belen, New Mexico and graduated from the University of New Mexico in June 1954. She was featured in a production of the play Late Love in July 1954...

     as Ruby

Production


The film was a collaboration of Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton was an English-American stage and film actor, screenwriter, producer and director.-Early life and career:...

 and screenwriter
Screenwriter
Screenwriters or scriptwriters or scenario writers are people who write/create the short or feature-length screenplays from which mass media such as films, television programs, Comics or video games are based.-Profession:...

 James Agee
James Agee
James Rufus Agee was an American author, journalist, poet, screenwriter and film critic. In the 1940s, he was one of the most influential film critics in the U.S...

. Laughton drew on the harsh, angular look of German expressionist films of the 1920s.

The film's score
Film score
A film score is original music written specifically to accompany a film, forming part of the film's soundtrack, which also usually includes dialogue and sound effects...

, composed and arranged by Walter Schumann
Walter Schumann
Walter Schumann was an American composer for film, television, and the theater. His notable works include the score for The Night of the Hunter and the Dragnet Theme...

 in close association with Laughton, features a combination of nostalgic
Nostalgia
The term nostalgia describes a yearning for the past, often in idealized form.The word is a learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of , meaning "returning home", a Homeric word, and , meaning "pain, ache"...

 and expressionistic
Expressionism (music)
,Expressionism as a musical genre is difficult to exactly define. It is, however, one of the most important movements of 20th Century music. The three central figures of musical expressionism are Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, the so-called Second Viennese...

 orchestra
Orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

l passages. The film has two original songs by Schumann, "Lullaby" (sung by Kitty White
Kitty White
Kitty White was a 1950s/60s jazz vocalist, who for years was a nightclub favorite among audiences in Los Angeles, known for her sophisticated songs with well-traveled lyrics....

, whom Schumann discovered in a nightclub) and "Pretty Fly" (originally sung by Sally Jane Bruce
Sally Jane Bruce
Sally Jane Bruce is an American former child performer, best known for playing little Pearl Harper in Charles Laughton's 1955 film noir The Night of the Hunter.-Life and career:...

 as Pearl, but later dubbed by an actress named Betty Benson). A recurring musical device involves the preacher making his presence known by singing the traditional hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

 "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms is a hymn published in 1887 with music by Anthony J. Showalter and lyrics by Showalter and Elisha A. Hoffman. Showalter said that he received letters from two of his former pupils saying that their wives had died...

." Mitchum also recorded the soundtrack version of the hymn.

In 1974, film archivists Robert Gitt and Anthony Slide retrieved several boxes of photographs, sketches, memos, and letters relating to the film from Laughton's widow Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was an English-American character actress with a long career in theatre, film and television....

 for the American Film Institute
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act...

. Lanchester also gave the Institute over 80,000 feet of rushes and outtakes from the filming. In 1981, this material was sent to the UCLA Film and Television Archive
UCLA Film and Television Archive
The UCLA Film and Television Archive is an internationally renowned visual arts organization focused on the preservation, study, and appreciation of film and television, based at the University of California, Los Angeles. It holds more than 220,000 film and television titles and 27 million feet of...

 where, for the next 20 years, they were edited into a two-and-half hour documentary that premiered in 2002, at UCLA's Festival of Preservation.

Response


The Night of the Hunter was not a success with either audiences or critics at its initial release, and Laughton never directed another film. Nevertheless, the film has found a wider audience over the years, and Mitchum's performance, in particular, has been praised.

The film was shot in black and white in the styles and motifs of German Expressionism
German Expressionism
German Expressionism refers to a number of related creative movements beginning in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin, during the 1920s...

 (bizarre shadows, stylized dialogue, distorted perspectives, surreal sets, odd camera angles) to create a simplified and disturbing mood that reflects the sinister character of Powell, the nightmarish fears of the children, and the sweetness of their savior Rachel.

Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

 wrote, "It is one of the most frightening of movies, with one of the most unforgettable of villain
Villain
A villain is an "evil" character in a story, whether a historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction. The villain usually is the antagonist, the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters...

s, and on both of those scores it holds up ... well after four decades."

The Night of the Hunter was rated #34 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills
Part of the AFI 100 Years… series, AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills is a list of the top 100 heart-pounding movies in American cinema. The list was unveiled by the American Film Institute on June 12, 2001, during a CBS special hosted by Harrison Ford....

 ranking, and #90 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments
100 Scariest Movie Moments
The 100 Scariest Movie Moments is a television documentary miniseries that first aired in late October 2004 on Bravo. Aired in five 60-minute segments, the miniseries counts down what producer Anthony Timpone, writer Patrick Moses, and director Kevin Kaufman have determined as the 100 most...

. In a 2007 listing of the 100 Most Beautiful Films, Cahiers du cinéma
Cahiers du cinéma
Cahiers du Cinéma is an influential French film magazine founded in 1951 by André Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Joseph-Marie Lo Duca. It developed from the earlier magazine Revue du Cinéma involving members of two Paris film clubs — Objectif 49 and...

ranked The Night of the Hunter No. 2. It is among the top ten in the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14. Powell was ranked No. 29 in the villains column in AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains.

It ranked as the 71st greatest movie of all time on Empire Magazines 500 greatest films list.

In 1992, the United States Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 deemed The Night of the Hunter to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected the film for preservation in its National Film Registry
National Film Registry
The National Film Registry is the United States National Film Preservation Board's selection of films for preservation in the Library of Congress. The Board, established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, was reauthorized by acts of Congress in 1992, 1996, 2005, and again in October 2008...

.

External links