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Revision as of 20:41, 18 November 2019

Not that You mind the killings, Your book is full of killings...
~ Rev. Harry Powell to God.

Reverend Harry Powell (also simply known as Harry Powell) is the main antagonist in Davis Grubb's novel The Night of the Hunter, and Charles Laughton's 1955 homonym film adaptation. The story was based on the crimes of real-life serial killer Harry Powers.

He was portrayed by the late Robert Mitchum, who also played Max Cady in Cape Fear.


Powell was introduced as a preacher with a contempt for women, who travels across the estates surrounding the Ohio river delivering his sermons. His modus operandi consists in marrying widows only to later kill them and steal their money. Powell seems to think he is actually doing christian service, since he's spreading the gospels and believes God hates women too. While serving 30 days in jail that he receives for the theft of a touring car, he meets bank robber Ben Harper, who has been sentenced to death for the murder of two men during the robbery. He tries to convince Harper to tell him where are the 10.000 dollars he stole, which he gave to his children to hide, as he vaguely implies during his sleep. As he refuses, Powell decides that upon his release he'll find and marry Harper's widow in order to get the money.

After arriving in West Virginia (where the Harper family lives), he fools the townspeople into thinking he was chaplain from the Moundsville penitentiary. When Willa (the widow) asks him if he knows about the money her husband stole, he answers that Ben told him he threw it in the river. This is enough to convince naive Willa, who marries Powell a few days later, allowing him to spend time alone with her kids Pearl and John to ask them about the money; but as they show reluctant to tell him (because of a pact they made with their father), he'll have to resort to trickery and threats, secretly killing the mother once she finds out about the situation by herself, and, upon learning that the money is in Pearl's doll -he made her talk by threatening to kill John-, forcing the children to escape in boat as he continues the persecution by land. After getting shot by Rachel Cooper, an orphan caretaker, he is arrested by the police force and is sentenced to death while avoiding a lynch mob.

He has the words "LOVE" and "HATE" tattooed on his right and left hand knuckles respectively, which he uses to tell the story of Good and Evil, where ultimately Love (Good) wins. His body language seems to imply that he's naturally left-handed, further adding to his menace as anytime he clasps his hands, all the audience can see is the word "HATE".


  • He is ranked as the #29 greatest villain in AFI 's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains list.
  • Robert Mitchum once said that this was his favorite movie role that he played.
  • Interesingly enough, he calls John out in the cellar for being a liar when interrogating him and Pearl for the money, despite being a bigger liar himself.
  • He shows one instance of worry in the film, when the story he is telling Rachel Cooper about Willa taking the children with her to live a life of sin, but she knows they washed up on the creek near her house alone, which when she reveals this to him, he realizes that for the first time, someone realizes his story doesn't add up and that he is a liar that is not to be trusted.
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