Rachel Cooper: "It's a hard world for little things."
Classic film noir thriller
. Directed by Charles Laughton
, produced by Paul Gregory
, photographed by Stanley Cortez
, and written by James Agee
, based on a novel by Davis Grubb
. Supposedly, Laughton hated the script so much that he rewrote it, uncredited.
The film starred Robert Mitchum
as the malevolent
Harry Powell, Lillian Gish
as the saintly
Rachel Cooper, Shelley Winters
as the doomed
Willa Harper, Peter Graves
as the not-long-for-this-world Ben Harper, and Billy Chapin
and Sally Jane Bruce
as John and Pearl Harper.
Harry Powell: "Not that you mind the killings! There's plenty of killings in your book, Lord."
The film follows two children who watch as Harry Powell, a psychotic preacher
, marries their weak-willed, widow
ed mother. Convinced that they know where their late father hid a fortune in gold
, Powell kills their mother and pursues the children as they flee from him. They find refuge with an old woman running a makeshift orphanage
, but will she be able to keep them all safe from Powell's fury?
This was a set with a lot of people who disliked each other. Mitchum hated Winters, which surely helped his performance
in his scenes with her. And Laughton strongly disliked children -- in fact, he disliked the young stars of his movie so much that Mitchum had to direct some of the scenes focusing on the kids. But my God, it works out in the end. The rural
-era setting is pitch-perfect, and the black-and-white cinematography
is stark and beautiful
. It's filled with the kind of scenes and images that you'll never be able to forget, from Mitchum's monologue
about the words "LOVE
" and "HATE
ed across his knuckles
, to the haunting
last image we see of Winters, to Mitchum and Gish's tense duet
of the gospel
standard "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Harry Powell, noticing John staring at the tattoos on his knuckles: "Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand, left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!"
When he originally read the script, Mitchum was very excited about the prospect of playing Harry Powell. During his audition, Laughton, describing the character, told him, "The preacher is a diabolical shit
." Mitchum immediately answered, "Present!"
This is the only movie that Laughton, best known as a character actor
, ever directed. When the film was released, it was unpopular with critics and audiences, and Laughton swore he'd never direct again. Too bad, because the man clearly rocked as a director
, and Mitchum himself later said that Laughton was the best director he'd ever had.Some research from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)