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Charles Laughton walked away from his busy acting career to direct 1955’s bizarre expressionist thriller Night of the Hunter. Though Roger Ebert would proclaim it “one of the greatest of all American films” 40 years later, the movie—starring Robert Mitchum as an ex-con who seduces the widow of a man he met in prison and tries to convince her children to tell him where their father has hidden $10,000—flopped upon its initial release. Laughton never helmed another picture, but his terrifying film-noir fable gave us Mitchum’s most chilling role as the sweet-talking demon with “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed on his knuckles, while Stanley Cortez’s black-and-white cinematography became the James Brown drum sample of horror cinema: ubiquitous and yet somehow always appropriate. Playwright and director Derek Goldman has drawn on both Hunter’s screenplay and published accounts from its principal creators for A Child Shall Lead Them: Making the Night of the Hunter, a co-production between the University of Maryland and Georgetown University that fictionalizes the film’s production and reception.

The play runs Nov. 12 to Nov. 19 at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Stadium Drive and Route 193, College Park. $22. (301) 405-ARTS.