This intense, excellent cinema debut by Charles Laughton, an actor who becomes a director for the first time, has been lost right after the premiere – mid-1950s were a golden age of colour panoramic movies, so a modest, black and white crime movie failed to attract large audience. It was appreciated only years later, when the fans of film noir discovered how unconventional and good this film is.
Strongly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, Laughton (who was Hitchcock’s assistant by among others Jamaica Inn) broke one of the fundamental rules of the Hays code, a set of guidelines for cinema producers of that time. The code prohibited ridicule of the clergy, but he made Harry Powell a cruel, hideous character. Laughton smartly circumvented the rules by not presenting the character while preaching – the only thing that associated him with the clergy was his appearance and quoting Bible while talking to people. In 2001, the American Film Institute recognized The Night Of The Hunter to be one of a hundred best thrillers of all times. It is a true pity that Charles Laughton, disaffected by very little audience interest, never tried directing again. It is a rare treat to see this outstanding debut on the silver screen, so the festival audience will surely appreciate it.