AFI Movie Club: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER – American Film Institute
The Night of the Hunter Film Still



THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER appears at #34 on AFI’s list of the greatest thrillers of all time, and the film’s diabolical Reverend Harry Powell, played by Robert Mitchum, is ranked #29 on AFI’s list of the greatest villains to make their mark on the silver screen. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER also stars AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Lillian Gish. 

Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Englund and Spike Lee on THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER


DID YOU KNOW? THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER marked the directorial debut of the esteemed English actor Charles Laughton. It is also his only directorial feature credit.  

DID YOU KNOW? Charles Laughton corresponded with Davis Grubb – the author of the original novel – throughout production and was also influenced by the more than 100 sketches Grubb sent him of the characters and plot points.  

DID YOU KNOW? Serial killer Harry Powers was the inspiration behind novelist Davis Grubb’s villainous Preacher.  

DID YOU KNOW? Filmmakers worked with the Production Code Administration, led by Joseph Breen, to get the script approved due to its controversial subject matter and sacrilegious elements.  

DID YOU KNOW? Cinematographer Stanley Cortez also worked on Orson Welles’ masterpiece THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. He remarked some years later that only two directors he’d worked with– Welles and Charles Laughton – had truly understood light, “that incredible thing that can’t be described.”  

DID YOU KNOW? While THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is now widely considered a masterpiece of cinema, the film was not nominated for a single Academy Award®.  

DID YOU KNOW? The Preacher’s “Love” and “Hate” tattoos are widely known and referenced. Spike Lee was so inspired by them that he created an homage in DO THE RIGHT THING with his own twist – knuckle rings with the “Love” and “Hate” emblems on them.   

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

Click Here to Find Out How to Watch THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER Now



The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Discussion Questions

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  • At the beginning of the film, Rachel Cooper quotes the biblical passage, “Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” How does THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER embody the quintessential “morality tale”? 
  • How does the film use a child’s perspective to maximum the sense of foreboding and powerlessness? 
  • What about Robert Mitchum’s performance makes it so chilling to watch? 
  • What did you think of the Love/Hate duality of the Preacher? How does THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER embody both the beauty and horror of life? 
  • What did you think of the film’s cinematography by Stanley Cortez? What are some of your favorite images and/or moments throughout the film? 
  • How was director Charles Laughton inspired stylistically by silent films as well as German Expressionism in the making of the THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER? 
  • How does Lillian Gish’s Rachel Cooper serve as a pious counterpart to the Preacher? 
  • Why do you think Laughton sought out the pioneering silent film star for the role? 
  • THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER can be seen as both spiritual film and one that calls out religious hypocrisy. How does the film reconcile these two ideas? Why do you think the film not well received at the time of its release? How has the film been reevaluated over the course of cinematic history? 
  • Why do you think THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER has continued to influence contemporary filmmakers – including Guillermo del Toro and Spike Lee – 65 years after its release?
  • How would you rate THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER? 


AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. See all of the titles programmed for AFI Movie Club here. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience. Learn more in our FAQ section.

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