This was the first and only directorial
outing from actor Charles Laughton, best known for classic
acting roles like Dr Moreau in The Island of Lost Souls
(1932), Captain Bligh in the Mutiny on the Bounty
(1935) and Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(1939). Quite criminally this film was a failure in its
time, and Laughton resultingly returned to acting, never to
direct again. It is a genuine tragedy that this happened and
that the film was so ignored, for it has an import to the
thriller/horror genre that is not incomparable to the
stylistic shadow that Orson Welles cast on cinema in general
when he made Citizen Kane.
knows the Mitchum character, the sinister "Reverend''
Harry Powell. Even those who haven't seen the movie have
heard about the knuckles of his two hands, and how the
left one has the letters H-A-T-E tattooed on them,
and the right one the letters L-O-V-E.
During the Depression, Ben Harper steals $10,000 from a bank
to try and help his family but is forced to shoot two men in
order to get away. Before he is arrested, he tells his two
young children, John and Pearl, the hiding place of the
money. In jail he shares a cell with hellfire preacher Harry
Powell who becomes intrigued when he hears Ben talking about
the money in his sleep. However Ben does not tell its hiding
place before he is hung. And so Harry heads to Ben's
hometown and befriends then marries Ben's widow in order to
try and get the money. Young John realizes that Harry is
lying but all the adults are swayed by Harry's hellfire
preaching and nobody will believe him. And when Harry kills
their mother, John and Pearl are forced to embark alone on a
frightening danger-laden journey in search of safety.