Described by Laughton as a "nightmarish Mother Goose", this profoundly disturbing psychodrama marked both the beginning and the end of his career as a director. Driven by a performance by Mitchum that goes a long way to defining on-screen evil, both tone and tale are absolutely compelling throughout.
The complicated plot has a logic all its own but the central story follows psychopathic preacher Harry Powell (Mitchum) as he searches obsessively for the $10,000 hidden by a condemned convict. Marrying then murdering the dead man's wife (Winters), he swiftly turns his attention to her kids (Chapin and Bruce), pursuing them to a conclusion of mythical proportions.
Met with bemusement at the time of its release, the creepy atmosphere gives rise to some extraordinarily eerie images. There's Shelley Winters, dead in her car at the bottom of a river, hair swirling about her face. There's Mitchum, knuckles tattooed with the words 'Love' and 'Hate', casting a shadow across the kids' bedroom wall. And there's the hallucinatory boat trip with its oversized flora and fauna undertaken by the children as they try to escape.
Drawing on sources as diverse as German Expressionism and rural American fable, this is a strange, tense and at times dream-like film that still sends a shiver down the spine.