A visually iconic film: even if most people couldn't name it, they'd recognize the idea of a man with LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles. Robert Mitchum is that man, here, a traveling preacher who murders widows for money and believes that God tells him to.
This film is in the noir tradition, though instead of presenting the foggy or rain-slicked urban streets of a city, it deals entirely with rural West Virginia and the Ohio River. Shots of various animals are interspersed (rather than shots of city lights and lonely diners)--the whole effect is kind of strange.
The story is strange too. I wonder if the original plot didn't suffer under the strict rules of the Production Code. We're presented with many dualities: love/hate, good/evil, male/female. The children at the center of the film are saved by a woman who raises orphans and teaches them Bible stories, but who unfortunately talks to herself in much the same way the preacher does. This convention, particularly at the very end, lends a creepiness that I don't think was intended.
Still, I'm amazed that in 1955 a movie with such strong themes of female empowerment, female love and protection, and anti-religiosity was made at all. I love those bits, of course--how religion is really just an excuse for people to enact their bullshit personal politics all over you, and how children inevitably get caught in the middle. And how shit like that will kill you, because you really have to be a terrible person to manipulate people based on how fucked-up you are in the head and then have nerve to call that God.
The Night of the Hunter
dir. by Charles Laughton, 1955