The movie is about John and Pearl, two young kids caught up in the midst of a situation they are too young to do anything about. Their father, a bank robber, is hung, but not before he give them the money he stole and promises them to not tell anyone where it is hidden. A creepy preacher, Reverend Harry Powell, quickly marries their mother. He doesn't marry her out of love - but because he knows that somewhere, they have the money from the robbery. He is cruel to the children when her back is turned, but she seems to listen to him, taken by his charms. Powell murders her in order to get closer to the children when he realizes they know where the money is, and he eventually learns as well, and he chases them far and wide as they attempt to escape.
There are some really cool, memorable characters in this move. Reverend Powell is really creepy, and clearly a lot of others characters in films have been inspired by him. The way he is lit, the way he holds his face tilted down, the cheap tattoos on his hands, his switchblade. Lillian Gish plays an older woman who looks after orphaned children, and John and Pearl find their way to her eventually. She seems pretty normal and unassuming, but she knows her way around a shotgun. There is an awesome scene of her in shadow on the porch, keeping watch, the shotgun close to her chest. They are such interesting and unique characters, and they are the kind that stick with you for a long time.
There are also the elements that make the movie feel strange. There is a lot of weird humor mixed in with the horror element of the movie, and sometimes it feels really awkward. It's weird to cut from the children on the run to shots of a cozy house with typical 50's movie music playing over it. I like how these things don't really mesh together, but it was off-putting at first, and I can see that it might stay that way for a lot of people. There also is different cinematography. Some of the shots are so beautiful that the actually feel out of place. Some of the sets are really strange as well, such as the river that is so clearly man-made.
I think this was a really neat movie, and it's worth checking out if you want to see something different. It's interesting, not too long, and it's really interesting since we don't usually get to see such unique movies anymore. If you check it out, let me know!
Have any of you seen The Night of the Hunter? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Night of the Hunter