The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 American thriller film directed by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. The film is based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb, adapted for the screen by James Agee and Laughton. The novel and film draw on the true story of Harry Powers, hanged in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia. 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, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Jim Jarmusch, the Coen brothers, and Spike Lee.
In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.
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 movie was filmed in black and white in the styles and motifs of German Expressionism (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 wrote, "It is one of the most frightening of movies, with one of the most unforgettable of villains, 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 ranking, and #90 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. In a 2007 listing of the 100 Most Beautiful Films, Cahiers du Cinema 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 Magazine's 500 greatest films list.
In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Night of the Hunter to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected the film for preservation in its National Film Registry.
Rev. Harry Powell: [when he notices John staring at the words "love" and "hate" tattooed across his knuckles] Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!