Much has been made of Laughton’s decision to shoot the film in black and white; Couchman writes persuasively about Laughton’s debt to early silent film and to the films of the German Expressionists. In any case, having seen the film, we are utterly unable to imagine it in color. This is partly because the clear and sharp division between black and white mirrors the clarity and the extremity of the film’s divisions between good and evil. Except perhaps in the cases of Ben Harper, who commits a crime out of poverty and desperation, and Willa, who convinces herself that marrying Powell is her salvation, very little in the film occurs in any sort of “gray area” of moral ambiguity—of characters doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
Francine Prose writes about “the primal pull of Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter” for The Library of America’s weekly “Moviegoer” column.