Film 6: The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Part expressionist horror movie, part luminous fairytale, Charles Laughton’s only fim as director contains some of the most haunting images in cinema.

The Night of the Hunter is revered today (in the Sight & Sound Greatest Film Poll 2012 it rates highly among critics and directors alike), but it failed on its first release, and Laughton never recovered from the disappointment – it was his only film as director. Adapted from a bestselling novel by Davis Grubb, it is part expressionist horror movie, part luminous fairytale, and contains some of the most haunting images in cinema.

Evil, in the form of fake preacher Robert Mitchum, is visited upon a woman and two innocent children until they’re rescued by Good, in the form of frail Lillian Gish. In its intensely visual treatment of the story, the film harks back to the great silent cinema, thanks to former Orson Welles collaborator Stanley Cortez’s marvellously expressive black and white cinematography.

As the former criminal convinced that his executed cellmate’s loot is in the possession of his widow (Shelley Winters) – whom he marries purely in order to get his hands on it – Robert Mitchum was never better: charismatic and charming, vicious and violent, his symbolic ‘duel’ between two sets of tattooed knuckles (‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’) gave American cinema one of its indelible images.

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