The Best Black And White Movie Is A Dark Crime Thriller, Stream Without Netflix Now

By Brian Myers | Published

Rarely does a film panned by critics and shunned by audiences receive thunderous accolades by the generations that follow and raise the production to the level of an artful classic. The 1955 film Night of the Hunter serves as a unique exception, the production now regarded as a cinematic masterpiece of visual storytelling that is as captivating as it is haunting. Among the best of its time, Night of the Hunter is now streaming for free in front of a new generation of noir fans.

Night Of The Hunter

Night of the Hunter is the story of John and Pearl Harper, two children living in depression-era West Virginia along the Ohio River Valley. Their father, Ben, was recently executed for killing two men during a bank robbery, leaving the young children in the care of their widowed mother, Willa (Shelley Winters). Just before Ben was captured by police, he stashed the money from the robbery inside of Pearl’s doll and swore the children to secrecy.

The arrival of Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) to the Harper’s small-town captivates the townsfolk. He’s handsome and charming and is quickly drawn to Willa. Unbeknownst to the widow, Powell is a sadistic serial murderer who preys on women.

Stalking Widows

The villain in Night of the Hunter cozies up to widows so that he can take their stash of money, then executes them. Powell made his way to Willa after serving a stretch of time as her late husband’s cellmate and is hopeful that he can recover the money that he’s sure that Ben Harper hid before his arrest. After marrying Willa, Powell slits her throat, secures her to a Model T Ford, and dumps her in the Ohio River.

The Kids Fight Back

Not trusting Powell from the beginning, young John is now stuck with his wicked stepfather. Powell is sure John knows where the money is hidden and will stop short of nothing to discover its whereabouts. Knowing that his fate is sealed if he stays, he locks Powell in the basement and flees with his little sister in his father’s boat on the Ohio River in an attempt to find refuge.

Night of the Hunter sees the evil Reverend Powell stalk the children throughout the remainder of the film, producing terrifying sequences until its dramatic and unforgettable conclusion.

Timeless Cinematography

The film was the directorial debut of actor Charles Laughton and remained the only time the legendary performer was at the helm of a production. Night of the Hunter was a box office flop and critics of the 1950s hated it. But over time, the multiple layers of the film were deeply appreciated by modern audiences.

The storyline is certainly enough to captivate attention. Two innocent children being preyed upon by a serial killer who hides behind religious vestments is terrifying on multiple levels. But what makes Night of the Hunter so enthralling is the way that the film was shot.

Artistic Use Of Shadows And Light

The film borrows heavily from the silent-era German Expressionist movement, using dark shadows to frame scenes. Well-defined shadows are also used in place of the humans who cast them, giving Mitchum an even more chilling presence in several of Night of the Hunter‘s more intense sequences.

In the film’s most chilling scene, the body of Willa is seen from her watery grave from above the surface before the camera pans to a submerged shot that shows her slit throat and her blonde hair gently blowing in the current. It’s a shot that gives chills long after the film concludes and is certainly one of Night of the Hunter‘s most memorable set of frames.

Streaming On Multiple Services Today


As the two children drift down the river, the film draws from two literary references (the story of Moses and the Mark Twain novel Huckleberry Finn), illustrated on screen by the film’s storybook-like sets. The unique approach director Laughton took with Night of the Hunter certainly made it a film that, though set in an established historical era, transcends its setting and becomes a timeless classic.

Night of the Hunter also gives audiences amazing performances by Winters and Mitchum, as well as by young Billy Chapin, who plays the hero, John. The film is one of the greatest entries in film noir. An upcoming remake is slated to be in production.

Night of the Hunter can be streamed for free with Pluto, Freevee, and Tubi or rented On Demand through Vudu, Google Play, and AppleTV.