(1955)5Mark DemingActor Charles Laughton directed only one movie during his 36 years in show business, and he certainly made his lone effort memorable; The Night of the Hunter is a strange, chilling, and uniquely compelling work that resembles no other American film of its era. Superbly shot by ace cinematographer Stanley Cortez, the film was obviously influenced by the look of German expressionist cinema, but Cortez and Laughton took the style's visual devices and reshaped them for their own purposes. The result is a film that resembles a reflected dream of childhood, foreign and troubling yet also very beautiful. Laughton drew a stunning performance from Robert Mitchum, who drops his usual veneer of casual cool and becomes disquietingly psychotic man of the cloth Harry Powell; his rapt sermon about the battle between love and hatred, and his murder of his new bride (Shelley Winters), rank with the most powerful and deeply etched moments of Mitchum's career. Legend has it that Laughton, who didn't care for children, instructed Mitchum to direct Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce as the luckless Harper siblings, and, if it's true, Mitchum coaxed a pair of unusually naturalistic and affecting performances from his youthful co-stars, who never play "cute." Lillian Gish is a tower of both strength and compassion as Rachel Cooper, the saintly flip side to Mitchum's dark perversity; in a world where even the most loving and honorable adults have gone astray, Rachel alone offers love and protection without judgment to young people who need it, and Powell's venal, misogynist brutality are no match for her spiritual courage. It's a pity that Laughton never followed up on this remarkable debut; many long and successful careers have been launched by movies not half as impressive as The Night of the Hunter.