Bright Lights Film Journal

Bringing Day to <em>Night</em>: The Resurrection of <em>The Night of the Hunter</em>

“It’s really a nightmarish Mother Goose story.”1 – Charles Laughton, director

Given the above description, any initial box office success for The Night of the Hunter (1955) was likely to be limited. The film is a dark, harrowing tale of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” out on a murderous pursuit of two children who know the secret location of $10,000. It is a mixture of harsh Depression-era life, Expressionism, fairy tale, and horror, all of which could not have been more out of place in the Eisenhower America of Lady and the Tramp, Oklahoma!, and Guys and Dolls (all 1955). However, the film, based on a critically and commercially popular novel, was produced by successful theater producer Paul Gregory, directed by award-winning actor Charles Laughton, featured two noted stars of the day, Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters, and in a supporting role, one of the more significant parts for silent film star Lillian Gish since the beginning of the sound era. The distributor, United Artists, thought enough of the film to give it a nationwide release.

These elements would not, however, equate to commercial success. Contributing to Hunter’s dismal box office was the lack of visibility for its first-time director, the notorious reputation of its star, an indeterminate genre position, use of unknown child actors in pivotal roles, and finally, its harsh treatment of religious zealots. Ironically, some of these very features later served to resurrect the film, including the cachet of a dignified actor’s lone directorial project and Mitchum’s rising iconic status through the years. In addition, the film had a powerful effect on noted film critics such as Pauline Kael, Robin Wood, Roger Ebert, Andrew Sarris, filmmaker and critic Francois Truffaut, and filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Their various praise and homage led to subsequent references of Night of the Hunter in later high-profile releases, such as Cape Fear (1991) and Do the Right Thing (1989). After exploring the reasons behind its disappointing release, which I argue put it in position for revival, and then illustrating the role these noted critics and filmmakers had in renewing interest in The Night of the Hunter, I hope to shed light on how the film was elevated to the status of a “culturally, historically, and/or esthetically important work” with its selection to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1992.

Author Davis Grubb, a contributor to Collier’s and Cosmopolitan magazines, set his 1953 source novel, published by Harper Brothers, in a landscape familiar to him: West Virginia and the Ohio River Valley. The film, like the novel, is set during the Great Depression and begins with Ben Harper, an out-of-work father of two, hurrying home with police officers in full pursuit after he has robbed a bank of $10,000 and killed two employees in the process. Just before his arrest, Ben hides the money, telling his nine-year-old son John and five-year old daughter Pearl never to tell where the money is, not even to John’s mother. (The viewer is also unaware of the money’s location until late in the film.) Ben is then hauled off to prison, where his cellmate, “Preacher” Harry Powell, a widow-killer who brandishes “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed across his knuckles, is serving time for car theft. Powell thanks the Lord for this opportunity to bunk with “a man with ten thousand dollars and a widow in the making” after Ben is hung. John, already uneasy on account of seeing his father hauled to jail, is the only one in town suspicious when the smooth-talking Preacher arrives in Cresap’s Landing. His distrust increases as Preacher soon marries his mother, Willa. After Willa goes missing, Preacher demands the money’s location, pitting the siblings against each other and threatening to kill one if the other does not speak up. Later, after Pearl finally reveals that the money is hidden in her favorite doll, the three set off on a harrowing chase down the Ohio River. The children receive sanctuary from the evil Preacher after being rescued by the stern but virtuous Rachel Cooper. As Preacher closes in on Cooper’s farm, the townspeople of Cresap’s Landing recognize that Preacher has murdered Willa and set out to lynch him. A battle then, of the angelic little woman, the villainous Preacher, and angry mob, ensues, leaving the wolf dead and the two children safe.

Before the novel’s publication, Grubb’s manuscript got the attention of Paul Gregory, a thirty-six-year-old theatre producer in the midst of a celebrated artistic period in connection with several productions with noted British stage and film actor Charles Laughton. These productions included Don Juan in Hell (1950) and The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1954), as well as an American tour of Biblical and Shakespearean recitations by Laughton. According to Gregory, sick of harsh treatment from demanding actors, he had been looking to make the shift to motion pictures, keeping alert for suitable projects for Laughton to direct.2 Laughton reportedly read Grubb’s book in one sitting and later demanded to know from the author, “Man, who are your masters?”3 Gregory, knowing Laughton’s inexperience with screenwriting and anticipating the toll the production would take on the 55-year-old first-time director, sought out an accomplished screenwriter. Their search led to James Agee, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter for The African Queen (1951, with John Huston).4 What attracted Gregory and Laughton to Agee was not his screenwriting, however. Agee’s most noted accomplishment up to this point was Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Houghton Mifflin, 1941). Co-authored with photographer Walker Evans, the book combined journalism, poetry, and photographs, documenting the struggle of Southern sharecroppers during the Great Depression. Agee’s ability to chronicle in harsh yet poetic tones southern life and language attracted Gregory and Laughton. Although brilliant, Agee had a reputation as a difficult collaborator due to his alcoholism. (Indeed he would not live to see Night’s premiere or his A Death in the Family win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.) Despite differing accounts related to the production, most notably about Laughton’s attitude toward the child actors, the relationship between Mitchum and Winters,5 and the accrediting of the screenplay, production was finished on time. By all accounts, all major players were left happy with their experience and the finished product. However, some of these details have warranted further exploration, and have in fact generated some of the interest related to the film’s revival. With the 2002 University of California-Los Angeles film preservation festival’s unveiling of footage shot during production (Laughton kept the camera rolling in between takes), many of these questions have been answered. The fact that these myths and rumors demanded answers, illustrates how interest in the film has grown through the years.6

Shelley Winters and Robert Mitchum

Although the unnamed Time critic does not give outright approval of Grubb’s novel, comparing it to highly acclaimed works like Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Lodger (1913) and passages by Mark Twain indicates an admiration for the work.7 Combined with Orville Prescott of the New York Times’ declaration that the novel was “a masterly story,” that he was “hypnotized” on account of its “beauty and power and astonishing verbal magic,” these declarations illustrate how well received the source material for Laughton’s film was.8 Due to these favorable notices, the novel became a best seller, proving to be the high point of Grubb’s career. In addition to critical acclaim for the novel, production updates noting Gregory and Laughton’s involvement, such as Helen Gould’s New York Times story on Laughton’s work with the child actors9 and Bosley Crowther’s piece on actors making their directorial debuts, shows the film was viewed positively prior to release.10

However, a complication toward the end of production led to a bungling of the film’s marketing, and begins to illustrate why it failed at the box office upon release. Due to his commitment to Not as a Stranger (Stanley Kramer, 1955) toward the end of filming on Night of the Hunter, Mitchum could only come to shoot scenes for Night on Sundays. Not as a Stranger would then get a release two full months ahead of Night of the Hunter. Since Stranger co-starred Frank Sinatra and was easily defined as a drama, Laughton’s “audacious project” (according to Crowther) would not receive proper attention.11 According to Gregory, since the budget for Night of the Hunter was only $425,000 and Stranger’s was $2 million, there was less need for a strong marketing push in order for Night to make a return.12 This resulted in Night of the Hunter taking in only roughly $300,000 in rentals.13 Indeed, it’s clear upon viewing the theatrical trailer why the film failed to build on the novel’s success. The trailer begins with Preacher slashing his way through a thicket of bushes as he chases the children and continues with shots of him disgusted with a burlesque dancer. Willa’s introduction shows her smiling awkwardly, as if in another film, possibly a light-hearted comedy. Together, Willa’s introduction and Preacher’s odd declaration that “that body was meant for the gettin’ of children” accompanied by a threatening musical score confuses the setting (time and location) and tone of the film. This leads to a shot of Lillian Gish that, oddly, does not name her or capitalize on her fame. The rest of the sequence (before the narrator speaks up) includes Preacher threatening Pearl, Preacher slapping Willa, and Preacher hovering over Willa with a knife. The narrator then chimes in, declaring “the passion, the suspense, the heart-pounding novel that gripped millions,” and later mentions Gregory and Laughton’s involvement, hot off their successful runs on Broadway.14 Thus, very little of the trailer’s imagery or the narrator’s proclamations successfully indicate the nightmarish fairy-tale aspects of the film, or the expressionistic compositions that were one of its hallmarks. Though the decision to leave out the expressionist aspect of the production is understandable in order appeal to the mass audience, what remains in the trailer is indistinguishable from run-of-the-mill thrillers.15 The only conventions included in the trailer marking the film as a thriller, then, are Preacher’s one declaration, the knife, and his threat. Though these instances could be indicative of the film noir style, and thus not foreign to viewers, the film’s setting outside of an urban environment fails to generate the same recognition with such conventions.

Three other points concern Night of the Hunter’s initial failure that later proved helpful in its resurrection. The first is the use of unknown child actors in two primary roles. Although using children in prominent roles in Hollywood films has always been common, most such films are marketed toward children or indicate light-hearted adult comedies. This way, there occurs an identification with the protagonists of the story, and thus a clearer marketing strategy. In Night of the Hunter’s case, the film – although including fairy-tale qualities, such as the images of animals along the riverbank as the children float down the river, its “angelic” score, and allegorical battle of good versus evil – is not intended for children. It is a nightmare. This, however, did not stop younger audiences from seeing it, as I will address later using an account from producer and director Jocelyn Moorhouse (Muriel’s Wedding, 1994; How to Make an American Quilt, 1995), which illustrates how late-night television helped Night of the Hunter stay afloat as critics were in the process of reexamining its place in film history.

The second brief point surrounding Night’s failure and revival is the lack of visibility for Laughton. As noted earlier, Laughton was a very successful film and stage actor. He was twice nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award, winning for The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, 1933). But those days were two decades removed from The Night of the Hunter’s release. Even with his successful runs on Broadway with Don Juan in Hell and The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, his days of mainstream prominence were behind him. In a 1956 review, Francois Truffaut, while in complete admiration for a film that “makes us fall in love again with the experimental cinema that truly (Truffaut’s emphasis) experiments” and crediting Laughton’s ability to make a commercial film, prophesied that “it will probably be Laughton’s single experience as a director.”16 However, as time went on, the cachet of noted actors and their one-off directorial stints would prove alluring once home-viewing formats and film festivals were established.

The third point regards Mitchum and his notorious behavior. Although highly regarded as a performer, he was not necessarily a box office draw. This was in part due to his reputation as a heavy drinker, drug user, and having a surly attitude. Indeed, his arrest and brief incarceration on drug possession, which was a major tabloid scandal, was only four years prior. In terms of Night’s public relations visibility, Mitchum’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show with co-star Winters, both extremely drunk, was an additional negative for the film.

Viewing Night of the Hunter today, Laughton’s ambition to make his project unique and capture the essence of Grubb’s thrilling tale appear successful. This was, however, a double-edged sword, as he managed to both alienate and confuse critics. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther’s review begins, “A weird and intriguing endeavor,” later calling the film “audacious” and “a difficult thesis.” For Crowther, although the performances are noteworthy, the “tangled traffic with both melodramatic and allegorical forms” proves too pretentious for his taste.17 Laughton’s stylization of the material led to the Variety review complaint that the film “loses sustained drive via too many offbeat touches that have misty affect.”18 Indeed, neither of these reviews, nor the Time review, attempts to categorize the film. There are no mentions of any genre, or any genre conventions. Much of this has to do with some of the anachronistic film techniques Laughton and his crew utilized. Laughton, according to both Grubb and Lillian Gish, had an immense admiration for the work of D. W. Griffith (Gish’s casting exemplifies this), and before shooting commenced, screened many of Griffith’s films at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art for himself and his crew, hoping to illustrate his ideas for the film’s look and gain inspiration from Griffith’s sense of American rural and pastoral aestheticism.19 In addition to the influence of Griffith, who was decades removed from the audience’s consciousness, using such old-fashioned devices as an iris to open and close scenes, motifs borrowed from German expressionist films of the 1920s, and clearly distorted sets and forced perspectives denied an easy categorization for film reviews and the audience. In addition, the emerging popularity of grand Hollywood film spectacles, such as The Robe (1953) and Oklahoma! that used new widescreen formats such as Cinemascope, likely compounded Night of the Hunter’s estrangement to its 1950s audience.

Lillian Gish, Gloria Castillo, and in the background, Mitchum

The film, however, did have admirers at the time, including the Los Angeles Times, which proclaimed that Night “is likely to carve itself an endearing niche among 1955’s best.”20 Reviews of this sort, noting the film’s idiosyncrasy, provide the basis for its eventual evolution to “classic” status. It was not, however, a smooth transition to wider acceptance. Years of scholarly and critical work went into resurrecting the film. One reason it took so long was because film studies and film criticism, as we know them today, would not emerge as serious disciplines until the 1970s. In addition, the filmmakers who ultimately championed Night of the Hunter would not attain their positions until this same era.

Building on initial admiring reviews like Truffaut’s would take time. Highly influential critic Pauline Kael, in her widely read collection of reviews and personal reflections Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, wrote that she had seen The Night of the Hunter the week of its release in 1955, in a large, empty theatre. In her short piece, she declares the film “one of the most frightening movies ever made (and truly frightening movies become classics of a kind).”21 This bold declaration for a film 12 years after release, and coming from such a respected source, was just the beginning of the film’s revival by noted critics. The following year, film scholar Robin Wood detailed the adaptation process in On Film. In that piece, Wood not only chronicled the transformation of the book to screen, but also highlighted the film’s quality and achievements.22 Wood’s recognition of the film as a work worthy of such a thorough exploration indicates not only that it was a project to admire, but that it was valuable to film scholars in terms of their positions as arbiters of artistic accomplishment. Transforming the reputation of a previously neglected work, as Kael and Wood did, based on their relative popularity among the general public (Kael) and in the emerging field of film studies field (Wood), served not only to examine the film’s artistry, but also to introduce it to many filmgoers and keep it alive for the future formats of VHS and DVD. Without their work, which bridged the time between the film’s initial release and the introduction of home video, Night of the Hunter may have never earned its second life.

Billy Chapin watches as Mitchum rides along the horizon in search of him and his sister

Soon after its first-run release, Night of the Hunter found an audience on late-night television. As Jack Ravage reported in Film Quarterly, in a review of the film’s 1988 MGM/UA Home Entertainment release on VHS, “television took it to its heart, and production became a three-decade-long late-night broadcast booking.”23 Due to Night’s engrossing, expressionist images, the atmosphere of late-night showings was ideal for the film. As a result, many children, who were not the intended audience, ended up seeing the film. This includes director Jocelyn Moorhouse, who in a reflection for Sight & Sound wrote in 1995 that she first saw the film on late-night television, before she was old enough to realize what she was watching. She felt it was “the closest a director has come to capturing the hypnotic, compelling potency of the kind of nightmares we have when we are children.”24 However, due to television’s limited visual capabilities, much of the film’s impact was not conveyed. Because of its detailed compositions and stark lighting, properly enjoying the film required sources with greater visual clarity. With the explosion of home video, first VHS and later DVD and Blu-ray, this need for clarity would be addressed. Critic Jack Ravage contends that the intimacy fostered by the confined space of home viewing, which as the center of our world protects us from evil and magnifies the terror of the childlike and dreamlike connection one gets from the film,25 allows viewers to more powerfully connect with the film in terms of their own dream/nightmare state. Ravage’s piece is important as it reveals the film’s place within cinema, just four years before its inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. He illustrates how the film’s late-night television run allowed Night to maintain and extend its visibility, and later with the proliferation of home viewing, increase its life. These late-night broadcasts are even more vital, because, as far as I was able to research, there are no accounts of high-profile festival screenings or re-releases during this period between initial release and home video. The only screenings would have been in a university or film-society setting, or late-night television. Because of home viewing, and the new awareness for previously neglected works, future filmmakers could then draw on Laughton’s film for themselves, furthering the influence of Night of the Hunter.

While Night of the Hunter was enjoying critical attention from key film critics and scholars, as well as viewings on late-night television and home video, Robert Mitchum’s legacy was taking shape. Although his notorious off-screen actions may have had a hand in reducing favorable attention for Night upon its release (the drug arrest, and drunken Ed Sullivan Show appearance mentioned earlier), Mitchum’s persona became one of Hollywood’s most iconic in subsequent years. Despite making many forgettable films, his tough-guy image endured, and some of his lesser-viewed films, such as Night and Out of the Past (Tourneur, 1947) were rediscovered. As his New York Times obituary addresses, while many careers may have been permanently damaged during the 1950s for such notorious behavior, in the case of Mitchum this appears to have added to his allure. Although it may not have led to consistent box office success, Mitchum was always in demand. A connection, then, between the laconic, weary anti-hero film persona and the real-life toughness of the man appears to have inspired a new consideration of his unique illustration of masculinity in later years, as compared to those of a less-genuine nature exemplified by 1970s science fiction and adventure films.26

These opportunities for retrospective would not be possible without home-viewing formats and the art-house culture of the 1960s and ’70s, and thus leads to another aspect of Night’s revival: the cachet that came with Night being the only film ever directed by Charles Laughton. Although this fact may have contributed to its initial failure, the opportunity to see neglected films from respected actors was certainly a draw for many cinephiles once home-viewing formats were introduced. Films like Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand (1971), and Peter Lorre’s Der Verlorene (1951) offer serious cinema viewers and scholars a chance to view an actor of note in a new and intriguing light, and thus, give some insight into the unrealized potential for these figures, all of which adds to their lore. With Laughton’s widow’s, Elsa Lanchester, recovery and donation of eight hours of outtakes from Night to the American Film Institute (AFI) and later to the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), this ability to realize the unrealized potential drew even more attention to his sole work.27 Due to the focus on the auteur theory that began to happen in America, particularly, in the 1960s, a swing to the opposite direction occurred in subsequent decades. This swing is closely related to the advent of VHS and DVD, because these formats allowed for lesser-known works, not made by noteworthy auteurs, to finally be re-released and viewed. Noted critic Andrew Sarris, writing in 1968, in his chapter “Oddities, One-Shots, and Newcomers” for his seminal book The American Cinema justifies this argument, albeit it in a roundabout way, when he states “Moral: Directors, not writers, are the ultimate auteurs of the cinema, at least of cinema that has any visual meaning and merit.”28 In this respect, Laughton’s case should be highlighted. Along with his strong acting performances and personality, Night of the Hunter’s poetry and originality indicate a singular visual and ideological sensibility, features commonly noted in auteur studies.

The Simpsons’ homage to The Night of the Hunter

A few small but important moments in the early 1990s helped capitalize on the previous 35 years’ worth of cinema studies-related work surrounding Night and led to the film’s selection to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. While a television remake (David Greene, 1991) of Night of the Hunter was aired in 1991 to little note, a remake of a different Mitchum film helped elevate Night’s status. This was Martin Scorsese’s updating of Cape Fear (1991), which originally starred Robert Mitchum seven years after Night. Scorsese’s version not only used the now-iconic Mitchum in the film (this time not as the psychopath Max Cady, but rather a police lieutenant), but more importantly adopted Preacher’s usage of the LOVE/HATE tattoo across the knuckles. With such a strong motif, one grabbed from a film other than the one being remade but including a similar terrorizing character and the original actor, indicates Night’s cultural presence just before its inclusion in the National Film Registry. The second instance belongs to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989), a film released just three years before Night’s selection by the Library of Congress. The application of the motif across Radio Raheem’s hands and his direct address to the camera, retelling the story of Right Hand/Left Hand, shows the powerful allegorical quality of the speech. In Night, Powell uses the speech to win over the hearts of the Cresap’s Landing townspeople. Lee, however, uses it to convey the righteousness of both the pacifist message of Martin Luther King Jr. and the call to action approach of Malcolm X. The originality and power of this visual, used both seriously and ironically, offer continuous opportunities for homage and further the legacy of The Night of the Hunter. Indeed, this LOVE/HATE motif is, I believe one of the more prominent in popular culture. Its usage is predominantly for irony, as in The Simpsons (the villainous Sideshow Bob has LUV and HAT tattooed, because the characters only have three fingers on each hand) and the 1995 Mallrats (Ben Affleck’s character goes to prison, and his cell-mate has LOVE tattooed across one hand); however it is used, it has proven to be a powerful motif.

Harlan Kennedy, writing in Film Comment the year of Night of the Hunter’s selection for the National Film Registry, says that the most notable Mitchum performances and films are those when he is on a rampage, using his “wicked grace.”29 This reflection indeed shows another feature of Night’s resurrection. With its harsh portrayal of religious zealots, the film, upon initial release, was out of step with most of the mainstream popular entertainment of the day. Although the film clearly indicates Preacher is not a preacher, the mere image of a “man of the cloth” tormenting young children with a knife was enough to turn off many reviewers. Preacher’s villainy, however, was only one aspect of Laughton’s attack on religion. The Cresap’s Landing mob that so eagerly wants to hang Preacher at the end is also an unflattering caricature of laypeople. However, with time, unsympathetic characterizations of religious people became less and less taboo.

Night of the Hunter’s selection to the National Film Registry, coming in 1992, solidified its status as an important artistic achievement and finally vindicated Laughton’s vision. The inclusion strengthened the film’s hold on viewers and filmmakers. Writing in 1996, four years after its selection and four years before the film’s DVD release, respected critic Roger Ebert included the film in his biweekly newspaper series “The Great Movies,” declaring Night “one of the greatest of all American films” and saying it holds up extremely well after four decades.30 Indeed, it seems that the strangeness of the film, the expressionism and artificiality of its visual style, coupled with the powerful allegorical essence of the story, give it a timeless air that helps it hold up as well as, or better than, then-contemporary “realistic” movies of the time such as On The Waterfront (1954).

Shelley Winters in one of the film’s most famous scenes

Since 1992, numerous screenings of Night of the Hunter, including those initiated by directors Martin Scorsese and David Gordon Green (George Washington, 2000; Pineapple Express, 2008), have also fostered this growing appreciation for Laughton’s work. Green, only in his early thirties, in 2008 selected the film to be shown at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Cinematek program as they explored works influential on his own, and specifically because his film Undertow (2004), about two young brothers fleeing their villainous uncle due to their knowledge of lost gold coins, is an homage to Night. ((“David Gordon Green, Filmmaker,” 2008.))

Expanding on all of this scholarly work and referencing of Night, in 2002, after 20 years of work, film preservationists Nancy Mysel and UCLA’s Robert Gitt unveiled their two-hour cut of the eight hours of rushes left over from the film. The screening on the UCLA campus for its 2002 Film Preservation Festival was a huge success, drawing those wanting answers to many of the myths and rumors surrounding the production of the film. These stories included the feuding between Mitchum and Winters, and Laughton’s supposed hatred of the child performers. Because Mitchum had proclaimed in many interviews through the years that he in fact directed many of the children’s scenes, due to Laughton’s disdain for them, Mysel and Gitt’s assemblage could finally clear this up. While Mitchum did direct a few of their scenes, Gitt reported that Laughton worked well with the children, eliciting their touching performances, and speculated that Laughton would have been a marvelous director had he lived long enough to get a second attempt.31 The rushes’ unveiling, coupled with the recent highly publicized screenings, homage to Night, and a full restoration by Gitt and Mysel for the New York Film Festival showed the film’s high level of artistry and brought its reputation full circle.

Sally Jane Bruce, with Charles Laughton

While many great films ignored upon initial release fade from public view, The Night of the Hunter has not only survived its tepid initial reception, but has actually surpassed many of the successful films it was released alongside. It survived a miserable marketing campaign (one poster, featuring a begging Winters in a nightgown and Mitchum standing firm, states “This morning we were married … and now you think I’m going to kiss you, hold you, call you wife!”, more in tune with romantic or historical melodrama), the notorious reputation of its star, lukewarm reviews determined by confusion over genre placement, and Laughton’s lack of cultural presence by that time. Through the years, however, because of late-night broadcasts, the work of respected film critics and scholars, and later, filmmakers who came of age during the film’s cult television run, coupled with the rise of Mitchum as a film icon and the introduction of home viewing formats, The Night of the Hunter has been resurrected and cemented its status as a unique artistic achievement. This is how this dark film finally saw “the light of day.”

* * *

Note: Barring a screening of the 35mm restored version at a theatre, the best way to see the film is the Criterion Blu-ray. Details (including extensive extras such a “a two-and-a-half-hour treasure trove of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage”) are available here.

All images from the film are screenshots.

  1. Preston Neal Jones, Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter, (New York: Limelight Editions, 2002,) p. 55. []
  2. Thomas M. Pryor, “Hollywood Canvas: Producer Paul Gregory Casts His Vote for Films Over Stage-Other Items,” New York Times, Sept. 5, 1954. []
  3. Simon Callow, The Night of the Hunter, (London: British Film Institute, 2000), p. 8. []
  4. Jones, Heaven and Hell to Play With. p. 80. []
  5. Mitchum said, “She looks and sounds as much like a wasted West Virginia girl as I do. The only bit she’ll do convincingly is to float in the water with her throat cut.” []
  6. Susan King, “Hot on the Trail of the Hunter,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 8, 2008, E-4. []
  7. “Killer in Cresap’s Landing,” Time, March 1, 1954. []
  8. Orville Prescott, “Books of the Times: The Night of the Hunter,” New York Times, Feb. 17, 1954, p. 29. []
  9. Helen Gould, “C. Laughton: Tot Tutor: Actor, Turned Director, Shows He Has a Novel Way With Kids in His Cast,” New York Times, Oct. 31, 1954. []
  10. Bosley Crowther, “Directorial Ambition: Charles Laughton Joins Megaphoners with ‘The Night of the Hunter’,” New York Times, Oct. 2, 1955. []
  11. Ibid. []
  12. Jones, Heaven and Hell to Play With, pp. 352-53. []
  13. “The Night of the Hunter – Box Office/Business,” Internet Movie Database, []
  14. Trailer for The Night of the Hunter (1955). MGM (Video & DVD), 2000. []
  15. Time, The New Pictures. []
  16. Francois Truffaut, “The Night of the Hunter,” in Les Films Da Ma Vie [The Films of My Life]. (Paris: Flammarion, 1975), tr. Leonard Mayhew. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), pp. 119-121. []
  17. Bosley Crowther, “Bogeyman Plus,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 1955. []
  18. “The Night of the Hunter,” Variety, Jan. 1955. []
  19. Simon Callow, Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor, (New York: Grove Weidenfield, 1987), p .229. []
  20. Philip K. Scheuer, “Laughton Strikes a Strange and Symbolic Note in ‘Hunter’,” Los Angeles Times, Apr. 17, 1955, p. E1. []
  21. Pauline Kael, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, (New York: Bantam Books, 1969), p. 317. []
  22. Robin Wood, “The Night of the Hunter/Novel into Film,” On Film, Dec. 1970, pp. 66-71. []
  23. Jack Ravage, “The Night of the Hunter [On Videotape],” Film Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 1, Autumn 1988, p. 44. []
  24. Jocelyn Moorhouse, “Private View: Jocelyn Moorhouse on Night of the Hunter,” Sight and Sound, 1995, 5:4, p. 61. []
  25. Ravage, ‘The Night of the Hunter [On Videotape],” p. 46. []
  26. “Robert Mitchum, 79, Dies; Actor with Rugged Dignity,” New York Times, July 2, 1997. []
  27. Simon Callow, “Film: If Only It Hadn’t Been His Only One,” New York Times, Oct. 21, 2001. []
  28. Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Direction, 1929-1961, (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968), p. 215. []
  29. Harlan Kenney, Mitchum, Film Comment, July 1992, p. 33. []
  30. Roger Ebert, “The Great Movies: The Night of the Hunter,” Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 24, 1996. []
  31. King, “Hot On the Trail of ‘Hunter.’” []