The Night of the Hunter (1955)

I was in the mood for a little horror tonight as the DailyView continued. I went searching through the top rated horror movies on Rotten Tomatoes to see if I could find something interesting. As I was making a list of potential choices I came across one that was more in the vein of thriller than horror, and it intrigued me. It was called The Night of the Hunter and it starred Robert Mitchum.

During the Great Depression, Ben Harper (Peter Graves) had robbed a bank, but, in the process, he had killed a couple of people. Rushing home knowing that he was being pursued by the police, Harper hid the $10,000 he had stolen and made his son John (Billy Chapin) promise to keep the secret forever.

Convicted and awaiting to be hanged, Harper wound up in a cell with a self-proclaimed preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) who hears him talking in his sleep about the stolen money. Harry decides that Harper’s wife Willa (Shelley Winters) would be his next mark in order to get his hands on the money.

Harry Powell integrated himself into her life and wound up marrying her, making the community believe in his con. Powell realizes that the children knew where the money was hidden and he started to target them.

Mitchum was great as the crazed con man killer. When he would get angry or hurt, he would rip out the most inhuman cry I have heard from a human in a movie in a long time. It was penetrating. He would switch on the dime between preaching man of the cloth to psychotic killer without a second thought.

I loved the character played by Lillian Gish, Rachel Cooper who was a tough woman who looked after stray children and who took in John and his little sister Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) after they escaped from Powell’s clutches in a small boat. I loved how she was no nonsense and willing to do whatever she had to do to protect the wards in her care.

The mood of the film was tremendously frightening when Powell was coming to Ms. Cooper’s home, looking to grab the children. The night time standoff, in particular with the pair of them singing a hymn, was creepy as can be. The ambiance of the picture was extremely effective and built the tension of the scenes extremely well.

The black and white imagery worked very well with the story that was being told here. There was some amazing religious parallels between the story being told and the story of Moses and other biblical tales.

The Night of the Hunter ended a little suddenly for my tastes, but most of the film was great and Robert Mitchum gave us a frightening villain to absolutely root against.

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