I can hear you whisperin’ children, so I know you’re down there. I can feel myself gettin’ awful mad. I’m out of patience children. I’m coming to find you now. Preacher Harry Powell
As convicted murderer and robber Ben Harper (Peter Graves) awaits his execution he tells his cellmate
Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) about his crime. Harper goes to his fate without revealing the whereabouts of the $10,000 he stole. Preacher Powell is a serial killer who marries and murders widows for their money, believing he is helping God do away with women who arouse men’s carnal instincts.
As he is only in prison for car theft, he is soon released. He heads off to meet Ben’s widow Willa (Shelley Winters) in the hope of getting his hands on the loot. The handsome preacher hides his true fearsomeness and his evil nature to win Willa’s heart and to marry her. He doesn’t realise that Willa has no idea where the loot is hidden. The secret is known only to her two children, nine-year-old John and four-year-old Pearl.
Preacher Powell breaks her down with his oily superficial charm, Bible quotations, sermons and hymns, and she agrees to marry him. On their wedding night he reveals his true evil sense and his hatred and disdain for women with their sinful, ensnaring ways and his determination to get his hands on Ben’s loot at whatever cost. It’s too late for Willa but the children still have a chance to get away.
This has to be one of the scariest chase movies in film history. Stanley Cortez’s dreamlike cinematography heightens the sense of horror and suspense in this truly frightening film. Mitchum’s Preacher has to be one of the most memorable screen villains in cinema history with his perfect mix of charm and menace.
Reviewed by David Kerr