While Charles Laughton was an experienced actor, “The Night of the Hunter” was the first (and tragically, only) time he directed a film. Stanley Cortez, on the other hand, had been shooting movies since the 1940s and made pictures with directors including Orson Welles and Fritz Lang. Laughton and Cortez first worked alongside each other in the 1950 film noir “The Man on the Eiffel Tower.” According to “Charles Laughton, A Filmography: 1928 – 1962,” Laughton may have ghost-directed certain scenes of that film. If so, he must have worked well with Cortez, at least enough to hire him for his first credited feature.
Speaking to The American Society of Cinematographers in 1984, Cortez recalled shooting “The Night of the Hunter” and working with Laughton. Cortez praised Laughton’s ability to work with actors and his philosophical aptitude, but said the director relied on him for the technical side of things:
“Charles did not know too much about camera technique. He depended on me completely, and I’m not saying this with ego, that’s the truth, because this is what Charles wanted because Charles did not know … I used to go to Charles’ house where I would explain to him what different lenses would do, and what the height of the camera would do.”
That’s not to say Cortez was the film’s true director. No, “The Night of the Hunter” is Laughton’s vision, he just needed a guiding hand in bringing it to life.