Posted October 28, 2012 by William Dunmyer in Classic

Night of the Hunter: Troubling, Brutal Classic

“The Night of the Hunter” (1955), one of only two films that Charles Laughton directed, has plenty of weaknesses. Its atrocious editing, strangely arch style, and awful, jarring use of music weaken it constantly. But it is also powerful and disturbing.

It must have been extremely shocking in its day, with its on-screen depiction of a mother having her throat slashed, followed by the killer stalking her two young children for miles, aiming to kill them, too. Rarely do movies put small children in this kind of mortal danger, much less drag it out for 30 grueling minutes. Watching a girl of about six struggle for her life at times made me feel like I couldn’t breathe.

It took real guts for Robert Mitchum to take the role of this psycho. There was real potential for it to be a career killer. I suppose the only real casualty was Laughton, who never got another directing job. Mitchum continued to have a huge career, as did Shelley Winters, who plays the mother.

Notable also is Lillian Gish, who pops up in the last half-hour and nearly steals the movie from Mitchum. It’s a travesty that her performance wasn’t heralded more. She should have won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as a gun-toting grandmother who is willing to protect children by any means necessary. The way she puts her body between the children and their would-be murderer is thrilling. And terrifying.

I get the feeling that “Night of the Hunter” inspired Hitchcock to make “Psycho,” which came out just five years later.


William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.