One of Cillian Murphy’s Favorite Films Still Holds Up Nearly 70 Years Later



  • Cillian Murphy’s favorite films include diverse titles like Arizona Dream and The Shining.
  • The Night of the Hunter is considered one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.
  • Robert Mitchum’s performance as Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter is chilling and unforgettable.

Given that Cillian Murphy is one of the most diverse and interesting actors of his generation, it’s unsurprising that Murphy’s list of his favorite films of all time contains such eclectic titles as Arizona Dream, Being There, Harold and Maude, Mean Streets, and The Shining. Murphy’s oldest and most prominent selection is the classic 1955 film noir thriller The Night of the Hunter, which is one of the best Robert Mitchum movies, where he plays Harry Powell, a misogynistic serial killer who poses as a preacher for the purpose of charming and then murdering women for their money.

Like so many of the greatest films of the 1940s and 1950s, The Night of the Hunter, which marked the lone feature directorial outing of Academy Award-winning actor Charles Laughton, was a commercial and critical failure upon its initial release but is now considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. With its expressionistic style and nightmarish, surrealistic tone and visuals, The Night of the Hunter has achieved timelessness. The movie doesn’t feel and look dated and has lost none of its chilling power. There is no other film quite like it.

Harry Powell Is One of the Most Terrifying Screen Villains in History

While Robert Mitchum, who received his lone Oscar nomination for the 1945 war film The Story of G.I. Joe, was certainly acknowledged as being a great star and Hollywood legend upon Mitchum’s death in 1997, Mitchum has subsequently gained a reputation for being one of the greatest screen actors in history, specifically in terms of his reappraised performances in the films Farewell, My Lovely, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and especially The Night of the Hunter.

As Mitchum’s deep voice, essential anti-hero persona, and sleepy eyes embodied the soul of film noir, his charismatic presence in The Night of the Hunter makes Harry Powell an especially frightening and unforgettable villain, specifically in terms of Powell’s ability to rationalize his murderous behavior through a biblical context. As Powell is seemingly able to attach all of his behavior, including the murder of children and women, to a biblical passage, Powell reveals himself to be an absolute psychopath.

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As the film opens, Powell, who has been traveling along the Ohio River in West Virginia in search of victims, is arrested for driving a stolen car and forced to spend thirty days in a West Virginia prison, where Powell shares a cell with Ben Harper, who has been imprisoned for killing two men amid a bank robbery that netted Harper $10,000.

While Powell is unable to coerce Harper into revealing the whereabouts of the loot, which Harper entrusted to his two children, after Harper is executed via hanging and Powell is released, Powell descends upon Harper’s hometown, where he charms the locals and marries Harper’s widow, Willa, played by Shelley Winters, much to the dismay of Harper’s two children, John and Pearl, who view Powell with distrust.

After murdering Willa, Powell, who has discovered that the money is hidden inside Pearl’s doll, stalks the children, who fled down the Ohio River on a boat to escape from him, who nonetheless tracks them down. Indeed, through the force of Mitchum’s presence, Powell becomes a uniquely malevolent figure who is constantly threatening even when he is off-screen, through Powell’s engulfing implied menace, which is inextinguishable and has lingered with audiences for nearly seventy years.

The Night of the Hunter Has Become More Powerful Over Time

Robert Mitchum’s brilliant performance in The Night of the Hunter, one of the best film noirs of the ’50s, is perfectly complimented by the film’s careful, sensitive direction and evocative, innovative cinematography to create an overall effect that variously seems beautiful, gripping, and terrifying.

The inventiveness and timelessness of The Night of the Hunter is reflected in the largely bewildered critical reception the film received upon its release. Critics didn’t know what to make of the film, which was variously described as being intriguing, pretentious, and weird. Moreover, the film’s commercial and critical failure was so personally disappointing for the movie’s director, Charles Laughton, that Laughton never directed another feature film.

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It wasn’t until the early 1970s that audiences and critics started to gravitate toward The Night of the Hunter, and the film’s reputation began to ascend to the point where The Night of the Hunter has, over the past twenty years, routinely appeared on various published lists of the greatest films ever made. In selecting The Night of the Hunter as one of his favorite films, Cillian Murphy told Rotten Tomatoes:

“[The Night of the Hunter is} a masterpiece visually and in so many ways but also a tragedy, as Charles Laughton only directed this one film. Robert Mitchum is so rivetingly magnetic.”

Cillian Murphy Could Play Harry Powell

While the idea of remaking a small-town crime movie like The Night of the Hunter as a feature film seems silly, given how exciting the original movie remains, Cillian Murphy, with his angular face and cherubic features, would nonetheless be an exciting and interesting choice for the role of Harry Powell.

Like Mitchum, who was thirty-seven when The Night of the Hunter was first released, the now forty-seven-year-old Murphy has proven himself to be extremely adept at blending charm and menace, as some of Murphy’s best performances have shown in the films Batman Begins and Red Eye. Moreover, Murphy is more suited to the role of Harry Powell than was Richard Chamberlain, who played the role in the 1991 made-for-television remake film of the same name.

Indeed, like Mitchum, Murphy has established himself as an enigmatic, intense, and uniquely versatile actor who can seemingly play any kind of role in any genre and has, like Mitchum, only become more interesting with age. The Night of the Hunter is available to stream for free on Tubi.

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