“A husband is one piece of store goods you never know ’til you get home and take the paper off!” Icey Spoon shrewdly remarks in one of The Night of the Hunter’s most prescient lines. The quip ranks as sound marital advice for any impending union, but it particularly applies to drifter preachers with tattooed knuckles. The spouse in question is, of course, Robert Mitchum’s Harry Powell, a pious crook with a penchant for quoting scripture and an unsettling habit of howling hymns at the moon. Fleecing only the most vulnerable amongst the Lord’s flock, the film follows Powell’s tireless efforts to extort the widow Harper’s elusive fortune, even if it means knocking over every orphan joint this side of Babylon. With his booming baritone—which practically renders Johnny Cash’s a falsetto by comparison—Mitchum inhabits a crooked Holy Roller’s maniacal glee with a fanaticism more entertaining than any crime thriller prefaced with the perennial buzz kill “based on actual events.”
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER SCREENS AT 7 P.M. (ALSO 7 P.M. NOV. 1 AND NOV. 3) AT AFI SILVER THEATRE AND CULTURAL CENTER, 8633 COLESVILLE RD., SILVER SPRING. $10. (301) 495-6720.