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Film: The Night of the Hunter

Probably Robert Mitchum's best-known performance was in this extremely creepy suspense-horror film from 1955 (well, this and Cape Fear). It's the one where he has "Love" and "Hate" tattooed across his knuckles. He plays Harry Powell, a preacher and psychotic serial murderer who one day gets married to Willa Harper, newly widowed and mother of two. Willa's previous husband has just been hanged for robbing a bank and killing two men in the process, and Harry is hoping to get his hands on the hidden money. And then it gets really messed-up.

One of the all-time classics of American cinema, and Charles Laughton's sole film as a director. Also the inspiration for the Thirty Seconds to Mars song of the same name.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Pretty much everyone except Rachel and even she admits she "lost her son's love" a long time ago.
    • Especially Willa, who doesn't lift a hand in her own defense when Harry kills her, despite knowing full well he's likely to kill her children next.
  • The Atoner: Rachel has stated that she "lost her son's love" a long time before the story started. She seems to be looking after the kids as a way to make up for her previous actions. All in all, this just demonstrates that she's a better person than most of the other adults in the film. She knows she did something wrong and now she's trying to make it right, and she doesn't deny her sins.
  • Author Filibuster: Invoked. Rachel ends the film with a sermon about how children can recover from any psychological trauma, blithely ignoring that at least two of her foster children have quietly gone insane. (The Hays Code insisted that the children be all right at the end.)
  • Bad Habits
  • Big Brother Instinct: John is very protective of Pearl.
  • The Bluebeard: Lampshaded during the finale.
  • Brainwashed: Willa
  • Broken Pedestal: Say what you will about the stepfather, but the kids' real father is no saint either. And Uncle Birdie turns out to be utterly useless.
    • Powell becomes this to Pearl once he shows his true colors.
  • Call On Me: Uncle Birdie tells John this at one point, but when the time comes he's passed out drunk.
  • Children Are Innocent: They abide, too.
  • Cool Old Lady: Rachel
  • Creepy Basement
  • Determinator: John will do anything to keep his father's secret.
  • Devil in Plain Sight
  • Expy: Many villains are based on Mitchum's performance as Powell, such as Kane from Poltergeist II The Other Side and Caleb from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even The Simpsons' Sideshow Bob gets in on the action in one episode, and The Clash give him a Shout-Out in "Death or Glory".
  • Fairy Tale Motifs
  • Fille Fatale: Ruby, who has some serious psychological problems.
  • Flash Back Echo: Done more subtly than many recent cases. At the end of the film when Harry is being arrested, John's freak-out, begging them not to take him away, and throwing the money, echoes what he was feeling but didn't fully express when his father was being arrested at the beginning of the film.
  • The Great Depression
  • Grimmification: Notably the bible verses and children's songs used to eerie effect.


Monsieur VerdouxDanny Peary Cult Movies ListNow, Voyager
Shallow Grave 100 Scariest Movie MomentsAlice, Sweet Alice
Mister RobertsFilms of the 1950sThe Prodigal
The Mouse That RoaredCreator/United ArtistsNovecento
NetworkRoger Ebert Great Movies ListNights of Cabiria
A Night at the OperaCreator/The Criterion CollectionA Night to Remember
Sinister Scraping SoundImageSource/Live-Action FilmsKnuckle Tattoos
Carmen JonesNational Film RegistryPaths of Glory

alternative title(s): Night Of The Hunter; The Night Of The Hunter
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