The Night of the Hunter (1955) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Night of the Hunter1955

The Night of the Hunter (1955)



Critic Consensus: Featuring Robert Mitchum's formidable performance as a child-hunting preacher, The Night of the Hunter is a disturbing look at good and evil.

The Night of the Hunter Photos

Movie Info

Adapted by James Agee from a novel by Davis Grubb, The Night of the Hunter represented legendary actor Charles Laughton's only film directing effort. Combining stark realism with Germanic expressionism, the movie is a brilliant good-and-evil parable, with "good" represented by a couple of farm kids and a pious old lady, and "evil" literally in the hands of a posturing psychopath. Imprisoned with thief Ben Harper (Peter Graves), phony preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) learns that Ben has hidden a huge sum of money somewhere near his home. Upon his release, the murderously misogynistic Powell insinuates himself into Ben's home, eventually marrying his widow Willa (Shelley Winters). Eventually all that stands between Powell and the money are Ben's son (Billy Chapin) and daughter (Sally Jane Bruce), who take refuge in a home for abandoned children presided over by the indomitable, scripture-quoting Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish). The war of wills between Mitchum and Gish is the heart of the film's final third, a masterful blend of horror and lyricism. Laughton's tight, disciplined direction is superb -- and all the more impressive when one realizes that he intensely disliked all child actors. The music by Walter Schumann and the cinematography of Stanley Cortez are every bit as brilliant as the contributions by Laughton and Agee. Overlooked on its first release, The Night of the Hunter is now regarded as a classic. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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Robert Mitchum
as Harry Powell
Shelley Winters
as Willa Harper
Peter Graves
as Ben Harper
Evelyn Varden
as Icey Spoon
Don Beddoe
as Walt Spoon
Paul Bryar
as Hangman Bart
Corey Allen
as Young Man in Town
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Critic Reviews for The Night of the Hunter

All Critics (69) | Top Critics (14)

It is doubtful that you will ever hear the old hymn, 'Learning,' again without recalling the gaunt, flapping figure of Preacher Powell as he lams it out in the dark night -- to the terror of the listening youngsters

June 28, 2019 | Full Review…

It's overwrought and lurid; the story is grotesque and so are the characters. It's unlike anything else before and since. And that is why this strident psychological horror stands up now as one of the great pieces of American genre cinema.

October 5, 2015 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

One of the great movie horror tales, with one of the greatest of all movie villains.

October 14, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

It is both Christian parable and folk tale, with its hymns, homilies, and orphans carried to safety by nature's benevolence; but it is also grounded in the social concerns of its makers.

January 17, 2014 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

A stunning piece of work, with the shadows of German expressionism and a compositional sense comparable to the work of George Stevens: it trumps its own noir cynicism with a thrilling and plausible idealism in the final moments.

January 16, 2014 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

It is a garish, unbelievable but fairly exciting nightmare.

October 7, 2008 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton, the formidable British actor, after years in the trade, made one feature as a director and this is it, layered like a fat juicy onion. A criminal malcontent disguised as a preacher goes on the hunt for some stolen loot, killing all who stand in his way, and there's your plot, but along the way Laughton pauses to comment on many and various things, not the least of which is how a poetically told story resonates. Like maybe in the old silent films ... and there is where this simple tale takes joyous flight. Mitchum leads as the heavy, but there are many fine performances here. Shelley Winters, cast against type, is marvelous, and Lillian Gish ( in case you missed the homage to the silents) underlines the point. And, after all these years, still as vibrant a work.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer


This tense and bleak film noir, aesthetically mesmerizing and borrowing heavily from German Expressionism, is all the more surprising when you know that Laughton hated children - and while Mitchum is great as the expressionist villain, he seems though too one-dimensional to be truly menacing.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

The very definition of a film noir. Robert Mitchum is spectacular as psychotic preacher and serial killer Harry Powell. Few films actually earn the title "edge of your seat" but this dark and incredibly well made film by first (and only) time director Charles Laughton will certainly have you gripping both seat handles in suspense.

Edward Boxler
Edward Boxler

Super Reviewer

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