The Night of the Hunter (1955)

 ●  English ● 1 hr 32 mins

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It's the Great Depression. In the process of robbing a bank of $10,000, the robbery because he is unable to provide for his family, Ben Harper kills two people. Before he is captured, he is able to convince his adolescent son John and his infant daughter, Pearl not to tell anyone, including their mother Willa, who Ben believes is too idealistic, of 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, he who swindles lonely women, primarily rich widows, of their money before he kills them. The authorities are unaware of these crimes, Harry who is incarcerated on a thirty day sentence for car theft. Harry does whatever he can, unsuccessfully, to find out the location of the $10,000 from Ben. But 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 evangelicalism, as she is a pious woman who feels she needs to atone for her sins which led to Ben doing what he did, especially as Harry presents himself as the preacher who worked at the prison and provided salvation to Ben before his death. But Harry also quickly figures that John and Pearl know where the money is. Conversely, John doesn't trust Harry, John who first tries not to show to Harry that he indeed does know where the money is, and then second constantly reminds a more trusting Pearl of their promise to their now deceased father. With Willa devoted to her new husband, John and Pearl may need some other adult assistance in evading Harry's veiled threats, an adult who not only can see the honesty and goodness in children but who can also see a true wolf in sheep's clothing like Harry. Will John succeed in learning the secret of where the money is hidden from the children? How will Willa's marriage with John turn out? What price with the children have to pay for protecting their valuable secret?
See Storyline (May Contain Spoilers)

Cast: Lillian Gish, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters

Crew: Charles Laughton (Director), Robert Mitchum (Director), Stanislaus Krantz (Director of Photography), Walter Schumann (Music Director)

Rating: A (India)

Genres: Crime, Thriller

Release Dates: 24 Nov 1955 (India)

Tagline: The Hands Of ROBERT MITCHUM in "The Night of the Hunter"

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Did you know? Reportedly it was Robert Mitchum himself who thought of the shot of hanging upside down in his bunk. Charles Laughton liked the idea, and it was shot that way. Read More
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as Rachel Cooper
as Reverend Harry Powell
as Willa Harper
as John Harper
as Walt Spoon
as Icey Spoon
as Ruby
as Birdie Steptoe
as Ben Harper
as Pearl Harper

Direction

Production

Producer
Production Company

Writers

Camera and Electrical

Director of Photography

Music

Music Director

Art

Art Director

Editorial

Editor
Film Type:
Feature Film
Language:
English
Colour Info:
Black & White
Sound Mix:
Mono
Frame Rate:
24 fps
Aspect Ratio:
2.35 : 1
Stereoscopy:
No
Taglines:
The Hands Of ROBERT MITCHUM in "The Night of the Hunter"
The wedding night, the anticipation, the kiss, the knife, BUT ABOVE ALL... THE SUSPENSE!
Goofs:
Revealing Mistakes
A wire is clearly visible on the owl before it catches the rabbit.

Factual Mistake
When John and Pearl are in the barn at dusk, there is a time-lapse sequence of the crescent moon rising. A crescent moon shortly after sunset is always setting and the lit portion should be tilted toward the point where the sun has recently set.

Errors in Geography
The turtle that John says could be made into soup is actually a desert tortoise, not found in West Virginia/Kentucky.

Crew/Equipment Visible
When children are asleep in boat drifting down river, right after closeup of fox jumping out of a tree, cable pulling the boat is clearly visible in water.

Continuity
In the basement scene, John pulled down the overhead shelf with the jam or oils pouring over Harry's hairs and shoulders. In the following shot when Harry is trying to grab at John and Pearl, his hairdo remained its normal form without drops of oils or jam on them.

Continuity
When Icey Spoon negatively talks about being married to Walt for 40 years at the picnic, his reaction shot shows him set down the piece of chicken. But when Willa calls for John, we see Walt is holding chicken again.

Continuity
On the riverside when Willa and Harry are talking, Willa's hands and purse are resting on the edge of her knees. In the next shot, however, her hands and purse are in her lap.

Continuity
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).

Continuity
When Harry says good morning to Ruby and Mrs. Cooper, he holds the hat about his chest. In the subsequent shot he is lifting the hat from about his knees.

Continuity
On the honeymoon night, when Willa approaches to the bed, Harry stands up and lights the lamp above in front of him. Between shots the lamp changes position.

Continuity
When Harry and Willa are talking on the riverside, he has his arms crossed, with his left hand touching his right arm and his right hand holding the hat leaned on his left folded leg. Between shots he appears with his left hand leaning on his leg and his right hand free holding the hat.

Continuity
After he drinks direct from the brandy bottle, Mr. Spoon changes the bottle to the left hand to put it in the sideboard. The next shot shows him finishing to set the bottle with his right hand.

Continuity
Mr. Spoon opens the cabinet to get the peach brandy. In the next shot, the cabinet is closed and he opens it again to put the brandy away.

Continuity
When Harry is stood in front of the Moonlit window and talking to Willa who is lying down on the bed, the 'odd' shaped window frame is projected by the moonlight on the wall behind Harry. When there is a shot of Willa alone on the bed, the shape of the moonlit window obviously frames Willa and not on the wall as before. Although the lighting around her is coffin-shaped and likely to be a framing device.

Continuity
When John is telling Pearl the bedtime story, Harry's shadow appears on the bedroom wall. When John looks outside at Harry at the gate, the angle of the streetlight next to him would not throw the shadow into the house, but on the ground in front of him.

Character Error
When Harry tells the children about their "fine dinner, with fried chicken..." the chicken on the table is a whole, baked chicken.

Audio/Video Mismatch
When Willa Harper is lying in bed talking to Harry her mouth movements are out of sync with the dialogue.

Audio/Video Mismatch
After Harry Powell disappears from in front of Ms. Cooper's yard, a barn owl swoops down on a rabbit. We can hear the owl's wings flap even though barn owls make no noise when they fly.
Trivia:
The original script called for Willa's hair to cover the slit in her throat in the underwater scene, but Laughton chose to film it as Uncle Birdie saw it.

Shelley Winters' last line "Bless us all," delivered just before her throat is cut was deleted in the final film.

The underwater shot of Shelley Winters' corpse in the Ford was the last one filmed. It was so convincing to actor Don Beddoe when he saw the finished film that he thought it was Winters holding her breath, not a dummy.

The Swedish title spoils the film, as it tells where the money is hidden.

According to Robert Mitchum's autobiography, Mitchum himself was openly contemptuous of Shelley Winters throughout the shooting of the film, and later claimed to have wished Charles Laughton had actually used Winters in the scene when her character's body is seen dead underwater.

In the Spanish version the translators changed the name of the girl from Pearl to May, perhaps for the difficult pronunciation in Spanish.

Kitty White was an acquaintance of Night of the Hunter novelist Davis Grubb. Director Laughton was looking for a vocalist to sing composer Walter Schumann's lullaby and Grubb suggested to Laughton that he go hear White sing in a nightclub. He did and White was chosen to sing the haunting lullaby.

Producer Paul Gregory and Charles Laughton presented key members of the crew, like cinematographer Stanley Cortez, each with a one percent interest in the film. This given to them on top of their salaries and is something that is never done. Gregory and Laughton said it was not done to encourage the artists, but reward them for their artistry. This was done over the objections of United Artists.

The scene where the children get away in the rowboat leaving the frustrated, knife-wielding preacher chest deep in the water was actually filmed on a sound stage. Robert Mitchum as the preacher was actually crouched down in the scene as the water level was a fairly shallow.

The iris shot used in the film was the first one in American live-action films since cinematographer Stanley Cortez used one in "The Magnificent Ambersons."

Laughton's first choice for the two adult leads were Gary Cooper and Betty Grable, but both turned the roles down.

Reportedly it was Robert Mitchum himself who thought of the shot of hanging upside down in his bunk. Charles Laughton liked the idea, and it was shot that way.

Emmett Lynn was originally cast and filmed as Birdie Steptoe, but director Laughton replaced him with James Gleason and reshot all of Lynn's scenes.

So disappointed was he by the poor reception of this film on its initial release both critically and commercially, Charles Laughton vowed never to direct a film again, and he never did. The film he was planning to direct next was going to be a screen adaptation of "The Naked and the Dead."

Later on in life, Robert Mitchum, who was usually indifferent to such matters, said that Charles Laughton was his favorite director and indicated that this was his favorite of the movies in which he had acted.

A scene depicting the townsfolk going into the Spoon store after watching a movie is the only complete scene that was actually shot and later completely discarded.

The studio tank at Republic studios, where John Wayne shot Wake of the Red Witch (1948), was where the dummy of 'Shelley Winters (I)' in the underwater sequence was shot. The eerie shots were filmed by an underwater cameraman in a scuba outfit and a camera that had to be held by him on a hook. Initially the tank at Fox was used but the paint inside the tank was flaking, and the water was not clear.

Laughton reportedly worked well with the boy playing John, but did not get along with the girl playing Pearl and shouted at her on occasion. As Laughton had the camera continue to roll after the scenes were finished, the camera often caught her reacting to him. Some of these "out-takes" were used in the final editing process as reaction shots to the Preacher's character.

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.

Charles Laughton originally offered the role of Harry Powell to Gary Cooper, who turned it down as being possibly detrimental to his career.

Robert Mitchum's autobiography contains many spurious accounts of the making of the film; in one of them, Charles Laughton is said to have had no great love for children, and so despised directing them in this film that Robert Mitchum found himself directing the children in several scenes. In reality, Laughton obsessed over every facet of his first feature, including getting the performances of every actor (even the children) right; this would lead to him dismissing one actor, in particular, after all of his scenes had already been shot and starting again with another in the part.

Robert Mitchum's autobiography contains many spurious accounts of the making of the film; one, for example, concerns director Charles Laughton, and how he supposedly found the script by James Agee totally unacceptable, rewriting it himself. This has been disproved by the discovery of Agee's 293-page first draft, back in 2004, which is, scene-for-scene, the film that Laughton directed.

Stanley Cortez, the cinematographer on "Night of the Hunter", had also worked on Orson Welles's masterpiece, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). He remarked some years after the making of this film that only two directors he'd worked with had understood light, "that incredible thing that can't be described": Welles and Laughton.

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.)

Dutch-born American serial killer Harry Powers (nee Herman Drenth) was the inspiration for the Preacher.

Robert Mitchum was very eager for the part of the preacher. When he auditioned, a moment that particularly impressed Charles Laughton was when Laughton described the character as "a diabolical shit." Mitchum promptly answered, "Present!"

The sequence purportedly showing the preacher riding a horse in the distance was filmed in false perspective and was actually a midget astride a pony.