In my ongoing quest to not become bored silly whilst doing this blog, I have decided to do a periodic feature on my favorite film villains. As such, there’s only one place to start. The Reverend Harry Powell from Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter.
As personified by Robert Mitchum, Powell is a righteous avenging angel doin’ the Good Lord’s duty. Powell doesn’t see any problem with robbing and murdering widows to finance his work: It’s God who delivers them to him.
If NOTH were made today, the Reverends’ sexual hang-ups would be a bit more front and center. As is, they are still there, but you have to read between the lines a bit. Take an early scene where Powell watches a stripper perform. His fists clenched and his teeth gritted, Powell watches in a silent, indignant rage. The payoff is when his switchblade fires through the fabric of his coat – a priceless Hays Code-era phallic metaphor. For all his anger, it never occurs to Powell to get up and leave, and the knife tips us off to why that is.
Then there’s the classic wedding night sequence with Shelly Winters. Winter’s Willa Harper gets the surprise of her life when she learns that Harry is not interested in having sex with her….EVER. This sexual revulsion that Powell has twisted around and turned into a murderous crusade makes him a truly frightening original.