Two young innocents are left fatherless when their bank robber pa Ben Harper goes to the noose but not before he has stashed a load of stolen swag or before the sinister evangelist Harry Powell sharing his cell gets wind of it
From the arrestingly modern aerial shot opening to the moment Mitchum's sociopathic preacher appears on the screen, LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles, you know you are about to witness something special.
What defines Laughton's 1955 classic as a bona fide one-off is not just that it was to be his only attempt at direction but the technical brilliance with which he welds Southern Gothic imagination and German expressionism into a biblical parable on the transcendency of good over evil. The finished article is a portrait of Dust Bowl era America full of icy terror, unexpected enchantment and rare poetic detail.
Two young innocents are left fatherless when their bank robber pa Ben Harper (Graves) goes to the noose but not before he has stashed a load of stolen swag or before the sinister evangelist Harry Powell (Mitchum) sharing his cell gets wind of it. Pretty soon Powell is wooing Harper's widow Willa (Winters) with his fire and brimstone rants and threatening to dice the nippers if they don't give up their father's secret.
The surrealist river voyage by which they make their escape is among the most talked about, and consequently, talked to death sequences in movie history, so suffice to say that the haunting music and the images of cobwebs, bunnies and frogs evoke a dark Lewis Carroll-like Wonderland which still retains the power to beguile.
Mitchum grinds out an unsettling study in insidious, inveighing nastiness on a par with his performance in the original Cape Fear and the crisp new print means Laughton's interplay between light and dark, shadow and silhouettes, crooked angles and perfect symmetries has never looked more luminous. A monochrome masterpiece, pure cinematic alchemy and just about every other superlative that spells genius.
A monochrome masterpiece, pure cinematic alchemy and just about every other superlative that spells genius