You cannot be satisfied watching The Night of the Hunter-1955 just one time. The film is also one of the 100 best films of 100 years that I have watched. Based on a Swedish-born serial killer Harry Powel it constantly reminds us of how people’s benevolent site is presented in ‘wolf in the sheep’s skin,’ time and again.
Similar to the TV serial Fargo, The Night of the Hunter-1955 is a depiction of the life of a socially upstanding man who commits crimes in the guise of a preacher. Being a preacher Harry Powel (Robert Mitchum) seemed to receive God’s approval for every crime he committed. He followed one after another rich widow with an intention to rob their money before killing.
The Night of the Hunter-1955 sketches an unexpected life-threatening situation that the two children are embroiled into. Adolescent John (Billy Chapin) and his younger sister Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce ) were entrusted with 10,000 USD by their father and convinced them not to tell their mother.
During the 1954 Economic Recession, one day the caring father of the children, Ben Harper (Peter Graves), robbed a bank which involved the killing of two men. According to his confession given to his fellow inmate, Harry Powel, who was serving a penitentiary jail term for 30 days for car theft, Ben said that he robbed the bank because he saw how the children around him were victims of uncertain future.
Being a concerned father Ben robbed a bank to assure his children’s future survival. While their mother, Willa Harper (Shelley Winters ), was away Ben reached home fainting with cash of 10,000 dollars holding a pistol followed by police personnel. Before he was hand cupped and police were afar, without polices’ knowledge, Ben was able to pass on the money to little John and had him sworn to protect his younger sister with life and not to tell their mother about the money, as she lacks senses. John stashed the money inside the toy doll his sister Pearl carried all the time.
Ben was sentenced to death by hanging later. Having information about the money the preacher headed for Ben’s widow after his execution. After a few days, he married Willa Harper. But, instead of consummating their marriage, the preacher preferred keeping it
purely spiritual rather than physical. The preacher, in the meanwhile, had not stopped making his attempt on John and Pearl secretively about the money, while he succeeded to persuade Willa into his religious ploy to the extent that when she falsely started to realise that he came to her life to show the salvation of her soul, instead of looking for the money.
One night he killed her and dumped her body into a nearby river where John’s father had a small boat and went after little John and Pearl. Sensing danger they escaped and hid inside the nearby parlour where their mother used to work. Taking advance of the common people’s unquestioning religious faith, he successfully convinced Willa’s neighbour that she died from excessive alcohol consumption.
Later, the next day, at night, followed by the preacher, John and Pearl were able to reach the river and get on to the boat, and rowed down the river. Tired and unfed, along with the toy doll, after nights they drifted ashore, and a childless kind-hearted woman, Rachel Cooper (Lilian Gish) who had three other adopted children sheltered, found them asleep at beautiful daybreak. She cleaned them, fed them, and made them her own.
The preacher followed John and Pearl there as well and showed up to Rachel Cooper’s door one day, claiming that they were his children. Little John, though, confirmed to their protector that he was not their father. Unable to persuade her and retrieve the doll that Pearl was carrying he was forced to leave at gunpoint but threatened to return at the fall of the day.
At night he came. She was ready with her gun to protect her children. She fired a shot at him as he tried to attempt to enter the room. She called to the police station when the preacher fell on the ground and was limping. By the break of the day police came and arrested the preacher for killing Willa Harper. Little John came forward with the money and threw at him and said “here, here is the money, we don’t need it”, and fainted.
At least fifteen widows fell victim of Harry Powel’s crime over his search for fortune. Later on, Harry Powel was sentenced to death by the court of justice.
What Breaks My Heart!
Helpless, orphaned John and Pearl had it all. The way helpless John never let his sister go alone and the way he felt obligated to carry his responsibility to take care of her at any circumstances is indeed something priceless to see in any film.
Modestly dressed, obedient to parents and sensible and responsible John reminded me of the noble duty of all the elder brothers of the world, and how noble that can be. His love for his sister was incomparable. I haven’t seen him laughing or even smiling for a single moment. He always looked as if he is thinking something, something bigger, something is always on his head like a real grown-up fellow.
I will probably watch The Night of the Hunter-1955 many more times in the future, not just because it conveys a message of the great responsibility of parents toward their children regarding a secured future, but because I greatly love John’s demeanour: the way he stares, walks, says ‘dad’, the way he struggles to save themselves, the way he looks outside alone in the balcony, the way he feels his loneliness and the ways he senses the situation.
Another thing that compelled me to think is that how desperate parents can be in considering their children’s future first. Ben Harper, being a father, felt it thorough and thorough and did not expect his children to face the same harsh situation propelled by the economic recession of the time that caused many unemployed.
The Night of the Hunter-1955 Quotes
Even though The Night of the Hunter-1955 talks about a criminal with a face of a Christian preacher, so are some dialogues are inspired by the Holy Bible. Nevertheless, I have come across a few memorable quotes.
“Though we are looking for love, Ruby, in the only foolish way though knew now”. “It’s a hard world for little things”.
“Salvation is a last-minute business, boy”.
“When you are married to a man for forty years you know all that don’t amount to a hill of beans (something of negligible importance)”.
“Marriage to me represents a blending of two spirits in the sight of heaven”. “A strange woman is a narrow pit”.
Having all said, The Night of the Hunter-1955 is a film that can make your time with it worthwhile. I hope you will also consider it one of the 100 best films of 100 years.