Probably Robert Mitchum's best-known performance was in this extremely creepy suspense-horror film from 1955. 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.)
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.
Henpecked Husband: Walt Spoon, who notably has to endure his wife ignoring his presence to tell half the town about how she ignores him during sex.
Heroic Vow: John has sworn not to tell anyone where the stolen money is, and has to remind Pearl of this frequently. The finale reveals this is a pointed subversion: all John had to do all along was return the money to the police and Powell wouldn't have been a threat. Keeping the secret caused the deaths of at least two people, including John's mother.
Of course, the movie seems to be trying to point out just how shitty it was for John's father to put that burden on his young son in the first place.
Hypocrite: A town full of them, exemplified by Mrs. Spoon.