The Night of the Hunter

From Academic Kids

Template:Infobox Movie (2)

The Night of the Hunter is a 1953 novel by American author, Davis Grubb. The book was a national bestseller and was voted a finalist for the 1955 National Book Award.

In 1955 a motion picture in the film noir style was made from the novel. It was adapted for the screen by James Agee and Charles Laughton. Laughton would also direct the film that has since been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.


Primary cast:

Plot Overview

The film is set in the Midwestern United States (the Ohio River is mentioned as being fairly close by); the era is never explicitly stated, but seems to be during the Great Depression.

Mitchum portrays Harry Powell--one of his hands tattooed with "LOVE" on its knuckles, the other tattooed "HATE"--who shares a prison cell with Ben Harper (Graves). Harper is sentenced to hang for his part in a robbery, but hid the money from the robbery, and trusted his children John (Chapin) and Pearl (Bruce)--about ten and five years old, respectively--with the money's location.

Missing image
Night of the Hunter lobby card

Upon his release from prison, Powell masquerades as a preacher. He woos and marries Harper's widow, Willa (Winters) in order to obtain the robbery money, and eventually kills her. A famed scene shows the dead Willa, seated in a Model T at the bottom of a river.

The children--especially John--resist Powell, and find sanctuary with Rachel Cooper (Gish).


Upon its release, Night of the Hunter was not a success with either audiences or critics. This response is probably a reason that the film was the only one Laughton ever directed.

Laughton drew heavily on the harsh, angular look of 1920's expressionist films, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and some sequences are very dreamlike.

Stanley Cortez' striking cinematography has been noted and imitated, and Mitchum's chilling and sinister performance has been especially praised.

Despite its initial lack of success, Night of the Hunter later found a cult following, and has since been praised as a masterpiece, and one of the finest of films noir.

Roger Ebert has written of the film, "It is one of the most frightening of movies, with one of the most unforgettable of villains, and on both of those scores it holds up ... well after four decades (.)" [1] (

Influence and References

  • The narrator of Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat" from his Tender Prey album seems to be a man very similar to Powell facing his execution: "My kill-hand tattooed 'Evil' across its brother's fist/That filthy five, they did nothing to resist"
  • In Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, the character Radio Raheem delivers an-almost verbatim version of Powell's famed monologue about his tattooed hands (see below), only with brass knuckle rings replacing the tattoos.
  • The Simpsons episode "Cape Feare" features Sideshow Bob with tattooed knuckles, however, "Since he's a cartoon character with only three knuckles, his tattoo reads 'L-U-V-' and 'H-A-T,' with a line drawn over the middle 'A,' to get that 'long a' sound." [2] (
  • Bruce Springsteen's "Cautious Man": "On his right hand Billy'd tattooed the word 'love'/ and on his left hand was the word 'fear'/ And in which hand he held his fate was never clear"


There was a 1991 made for television version of Night of The Hunter, staring Richard Chamberlain as Powell.


  • "Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!"

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