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Night of the Hunter 1955 ***

Charles Laughton’s only film as director is a Gothic masterpiece, adapted by James Agee from David Grubb’s novel and recalling the Southern melodramas of William Faulkner. When Robert Mitchum’s bogus minister Harry Powell has the good fortune to share a jail cell with a Death-row bound criminal Ben Harper (Peter Graves), he gets wind of where the stolen loot is. Powell wins the confidence of Harper’s widow Willa (Shelley Winters) and suspects that his children know where the loot is stashed. The kids go on the run, and Powell meets his match when the action moves down-river to where Lillian Gish’s fairy-godmother is waiting with a shot-gun. A rare lyrical thriller, this black and white masterpiece is wrought with sexual tension, and Mitchum’s minister is a genuinely terrifying creation. A flop when first released, Laughton’s film is decidedly modern in outlook, and still sends a shiver down the spine.

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