The Night of the Hunter is unusual in that it is the only film directed by Charles Laughton, a known actor. That he decided never to direct another film after this one only elevates the status of his solitary work, which while not well reviewed when it was released, has now become one of the most beloved and best regarded films of all time.
It is the talent of Robert Mitchum that is on prominent display here, and the film is what it is because of his brilliant accomplishment. Mitchum creates by far one of the most duplicitous and memorable screen villains of all time; Reverend Powell’s tattoos of LOVE and HATE on his fingers as he wrestles them with each other becoming an iconic touchstone of American cinema. The film also features a surprising supporting role with Lillian Gish, silent screen star, who provides the needed blunt force to counter Mitchum’s perverse and determined villainy.
While the acting is the central selling point, the film itself is a very stark and washed-out experience, and is one that is very atypical of films of the time, even black and white dramas. Both the film experience and Robert Mitchum’s villain are each noteworthy enough to make it onto the Must See list; it only makes it easier that the two are combined into a single film. Watch this one if ever you get the chance to.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10