A rambling preacher looking up to the sky, calmly conversing with God, drives down the open road of deep Southern territory. The Night of the Hunter places its trust and faith in one-time director Charles Laughton, who brings the story of a preacher hellbent on finding a stash of hidden money. Infiltrating a family after a happenstance encounter with the family figurehead in the prison, Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is hellbent on finding $10,000, and the conniving efforts of his charming persona just might lead him to success. Honest fronts hide a monstrous aim and a man who will stop at nothing to get anything he desires; The Night of the Hunter presents a series of characters and events that slot together with such incredible ease.
Stellar composition from Laughton leads to many scenes of great engagement. Isolated street lamps outside the front of a home, the wide-angle used to capture this scene makes the danger feel close. Consistent humming offered by Powell in this scene is the cherry on top, one of many moments of superb tension. These artistic merits of Laughton pair well with the talents of Mitchum’s starring role. He shadows the life of a child who is protecting the promise he made to his father. A great performance from Mitchum shows a disgracefully unholy villain, the pangs of irony found in his preacher-like persona noted well by Laugham’s dedication to tremendous bouts of joyless horror.
Of course, the cast is only as good as their weakest link. Shamefully, those muted cast members surround Mitchum, and the audience is left to support these feeble efforts. Nothing dreadful, but to expect a tad more from a cast that hounds the preacher man is by no means a stretch. A solid bit from Billy Chapin will manage to reassure some of those doubts surrounding the quality, but there are a few unavoidable scenes where the burden of such vast storytelling is too much for this young cast to bear. When the film reaches its climax, it plods on for a great deal after, attempting to spend some time away from its conniving, creeping villain. It should be no surprise that the worst scenes are those that lack Mitchum’s powerful presence.
Brilliantly compelling, and another tale of innocent youth taking on the villainous horrors of a meddling antagonist. The Night of the Hunter boasts superb dialogue and engaging performances from the first few moments of its running time. It falters here or there, not quite keeping the pacing up once Laughton passes the big blow-off. With much of his time spent making the film look good and flow well, he occasionally forgets to have some intermittent bouts of extreme quality, and it leaves a lot to be desired in those closing moments. Hard it may be to detract from its first hour, the lack of finality is a weak moment, one that shows Laughton and his cast aren’t quite ready to usher an audience out the door, first it needs to plod down that same, barren road the preacher followed.