It's the Great Depression. In the process of robbing a bank of $10,000, Ben Harper kills two people. Before he is captured, he is able to convince his adolescent son John and his daughter Pearl not to tell anyone, including their mother Willa, where he hid the money, namely in Pearl's favorite toy, a doll that she carries everywhere with her. Ben, who is captured, tried and convicted, is sentenced to death. But before he is executed, Ben is in the state penitentiary with a cell mate, a man by the name of Harry Powell, a self-professed man of the cloth, who is really a con man and murderer, swindling lonely women, primarily rich widows, of their money before he kills them. Harry does whatever he can, unsuccessfully, to find out the location of the $10,000 from Ben. After Ben's execution, Harry decides that Willa will be his next mark, he figuring that someone in the family knowing where the money is. Despite vowing not to get remarried, Willa ends up being easy prey for Harry's outward... Written by
Reports that screenwriter James Agee wrote an incoherent screenplay have been proved false by the 2004 discovery of his first draft. That document, although 293 pages in length, and manifestly overwritten (as is common with first drafts), is, scene-for-scene, the film that Charles Laughton directed. Likewise false are the reports that Agee was fired, related most infamously in Robert Mitchum's autobiography. Laughton, however much he gnashed his teeth at having such a behemoth of a text in his hands with only five weeks to go before the start of principal photography, calmly renewed Agee's contract and directed him to cut it in half; after much persuasion, he did. In Laughton's stage work ("Galileo", "Cain Mutiny Court Martial", etc), the great actor demonstrated he was a script editor of genius - he could induce the most stubborn and prideful writer to cut, cut, cut, and so he did in Agee's case. Later, apparently at Robert Mitchum's request, Agee visited the set to settle a dispute between the star and Laughton. Letters and documents located in the archive of Agee's agent Paul Kohner bear this out -- they were brought to light by Laughton biographer Simon Callow, whose excellent BFI book about "Night of the Hunter" diligently sets this part of the record straight. The Agee first draft may eventually be published, but it has been read by scholars -- most notably, Professor Jeffrey Couchman of Columbia University, who published his findings in an essay, "Credit Where Credit Is Due". To assert Agee's moral right to his screen credit in no way disputes Laughton's greatness as a director -- clearly, he was as expert with writers as he was with actors -- but Agee has been belittled, and even slandered, over the years (especially in Robert Mitchum's autobiography), when his contribution to "Night of the Hunter" was of primary and enduring importance. (Submitted by F. X. Feeney, film critic and author, who has read the original Agee script.) See more »
Although story is set in Depression, a Forties era photo of Ingrid Bergman (then unknown to American film-goers) adorns cover of a magazine prominently displayed on a small town newsstand. See more »
[Pearl reaches to touch Powell's switchblade]
Rev. Harry Powell:
No, no! Don't you touch that, little lamb. Don't touch my knife, that makes me mad. That makes me very, very mad.
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Beautiful cinematography and an epic tale of the struggle between good and evil
The first time I saw this film was probably more than ten years ago on a late Monday night on the BBC. At such a time on such a day one never expects to be shown something decent. But 'Night of the hunter' proved to be one of the best films I have ever seen. The cinematography is breathtaking, especially the river journey of the two children who are fleeing for the evil and demented preacher who killed their mother. Never have I seen nature being portrayed in such a mysterious and dangerous way. The sharp contrasts of light, the dark church in the distance which symbolises the dangerous preacher. The film made me think of the books of Flannery 'O Connor, especially the strange and mysterious southern tale Wise Blood.
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