Ann Hornaday Recommends

Marlon Brando never directed another movie after "One-Eyed Jacks," which some of the film's detractors thought a good thing. Other critics, seeing promise where others saw self-conscious eccentricity, regretted that he never had more stints behind the camera. Herewith, three uncommonly promising directorial debuts by actors who aren't Orson Welles:

The Night of the Hunter (1955, 93 minutes) -- Charles Laughton's one and only directorial effort (not counting the 1950 film "The Man on the Eiffel Tower," which was credited to Burgess Meredith) starred Robert Mitchum in one of his most indelible and defining roles: the Rev. Harry Powell, the ex-con and grifter with "love" and "hate" tattooed on his knuckles and who stalks two children in pursuit of a stash of money. Sadly, this would be the only tantalizing example of Laughton's particular brand of intelligence, tonal acuity and emotional control. (Not rated)

Play Misty for Me (1971, 102 minutes) -- Clint Eastwood made our day when he came out of nowhere to make this jazzy, atmospheric psychological thriller about a disc jockey (played by Eastwood) being stalked by a crazed fan (Jessica Walter). A terrific evocation of 1970s Malibu and contemporary existential angst, it's also a startlingly honest portrait of male anxiety in the face of the burgeoning feminist movement. Eastwood went on to prove he wasn't a one-trick pony with "Bird," "Unforgiven" and "Mystic River." We'll overlook "Blood Work" for now. (Rated R)

In the Bedroom (2001, 130 minutes) -- Todd Field could have retired simply on the merits of his performance as the sweetly clueless fiance swooning over Anne Heche's socks in the 1996 romantic dramedy "Walking & Talking." But then he went on to make this harrowing, masterfully controlled adaptation of an Andre Dubus story about a couple coping with the murder of their son. As taut, dramatic and ultimately tragic as it is, Field never lets the film succumb to Gothic emotionalism, and he coaxes two of the best performances of their careers from Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson. Field is slated to direct five more movies in the next couple of years. We wait and we hope. (Rated R for some violence and language.)

Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek in "In the Bedroom."