Emmett Lynn was originally cast and filmed as Birdie Steptoe, but director Laughton replaced him with James Gleason and reshot all of Lynn's scenes.
Robert Mitchum was very eager for the part of the preacher. When he auditioned, a moment that particularly impressed Charles Laughton was when Laughton described the character as "a diabolical shit." Mitchum promptly answered, "Present!"
Robert Mitchum's autobiography contains many spurious accounts of the making of the film; in one of them, Charles Laughton is said to have had no great love for children, and so despised directing them in this film that Robert Mitchum found himself directing the children in several scenes. In reality, Laughton obsessed over ever facet of his first feature, including getting the performances of every actor (even the children) right; this would lead to him dismissing one actor, in particular, after all of his scenes had already been shot and starting again with another in the part.
Robert Mitchum's autobiography contains many spurious accounts of the making of the film; one, for example, concerns director Charles Laughton, and how he supposedly found the script by James Agee totally unacceptable, rewriting it himself. This has been disproved by the discovery of Agee's 293-page first draft, back in 2004, which is, scene-for-scene, the film that Laughton directed.
Charles Laughton originally offered the role of Harry Powell to Gary Cooper, who turned it down as being possibly detrimental to his career.
Stanley Cortez, the cinematographer on "Night of the Hunter", had also worked on Orson Welles's masterpiece, "The Magnificent Ambersons". He remarked some years after the making of this film that only two directors he'd worked with had understood light, "that incredible thing that can't be described": Welles and Laughton.
According to Robert Mitchum's autobiography, Mitchum himself was openly contemptuous of Shelley Winters throughout the shooting of the film, and later claimed to have wished Charles Laughton had actually used Winters in the scene when her character's body is seen dead underwater.
In the Spanish version the translators changed the name of the girl from Pearl to May, perhaps for the difficult pronunciation in Spanish.
Later on in life, Robert Mitchum, who was usually indifferent to such matters, said that Charles Laughton was his favorite director and indicated that this was his favorite of the movies in which he had acted.
Reports that screenwriter James Agee wrote an incoherent screenplay have been proved false by the 2004 discovery of his first draft. That document, although 293 pages in length, and manifestly overwritten (as is common with first drafts), is, scene-for-scene, the film that Charles Laughton directed. Likewise false are the reports that Agee was fired, related most infamously in Robert Mitchum's autobiography. Laughton, however much he gnashed his teeth at having such a behemoth of a text in his hands with only five weeks to go before the start of principal photography, calmly renewed Agee's contract and directed him to cut it in half; after much persuasion, he did. In Laughton's stage work ("Galileo", "Cain Mutiny Court Martial", etc), the great actor demonstrated he was a script editor of genius - he could induce the most stubborn and prideful writer to cut, cut, cut, and so he did in Agee's case. Later, apparently at Robert Mitchum's request, Agee visited the set to settle a dispute between the star and Laughton. Letters and documents located in the archive of Agee's agent Paul Kohner bear this out -- they were brought to light by Laughton biographer Simon Callow, whose excellent BFI book about "Night of the Hunter" diligently sets this part of the record
So disappointed was he by the poor reception of this film on its initial release both critically and commercially, Charles Laughton vowed never to direct a film again, and he never did. The film he was planning to direct next was going to be a screen adaptation of "The Naked and the Dead."
The sequence purportedly showing the preacher riding a horse in the distance was filmed in false perspective and was actually a midget astride a pony.
The Swedish title spoils the film, as it tells where the money is hidden.
While the poor critical reviews are often cited as the reason Laughton never directed another feature, Laughton himself said that he much preferred directing in the theatre. In the theatre you could constantly change and amend the production - adding lines, changing lighting and sets - but with film once it was done it could never be changed.