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Harry Powell marries and murders widows for their money, believing he is helping God do away with women who arouse men's carnal instincts. Arrested for auto theft, he shares a cell with condemned killer Ben Harper and tries to get him to reveal the whereabouts of the $10,000 he stole. Only Ben's nine-year-old son, John and four-year-old daughter, Pearl know the money is in Pearl's doll and they have sworn to their father to keep this secret. After Ben is executed, Preacher goes to Cresap's Landing to court Ben's widow, Willa. He overwhelms her with his Scripture quoting, sermons and hymns, and she agrees to marry him. On their wedding night he tells her they will never have sex because it is sinful. When the depressed, confused, guilty woman catches him trying to force Pearl to reveal the whereabouts of the money, she is resigned to her fate but the children manage to escape downriver, with Preacher following close behind. Written by
While the poor critical reviews are often cited as the reason Laughton never directed another feature, Laughton himself said that he much preferred directing in the theatre. In the theatre you could constantly change and amend the production - adding lines, changing lighting and sets - but with film once it was done it could never be changed. See more »
When the children are in the boat over night and it drifts onto shore, the oar is positioned one way - after a cutaway to the bow, we see the whole boat again, but now the oar is positioned differently (under John's legs). See more »
This film is way ahead of its time, not only in subject matter but also in cinematic style. The subject is a psychopathic preacher who believes that God is telling him to murder women, usually widowers, and take their money.
From the opening two shots and the first few lines of the preacher, the characters history and intent is laid down. As quickly, the first few scenes with the children show the circumstances that will bring about the main premise. After that you are allowed to wallow in Robert Mitchums role as the over acting preacher. Laughton directs very well, with some visually rich scenes and wonderful shots. However, there are a couple of cheesy moments of dialogue, and a few, almost laughable, scenes. Despite this it's a very good movie with some stunning acting from Robert Mitchum.
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