• It’s easy to forget that audiences and critics were baffled by Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters, upon its release in 1955. Yet, as Dennis Lim reminds us in his Los Angeles Times review of Criterion’s special edition of the film, “The Night of the Hunter has grown in stature since, recuperated as a cult favorite and eventually acknowledged as a masterpiece, a movie with many descendants (from David Lynch to Terrence Malick) but few real precedents . . . To watch The Night of the Hunter is to have some of its images forever imprinted on one’s mind.”

    “There has never been anything else quite like it in the annals of American cinema,” effuses Matt Hough at Home Theater Forum. “It’s beautifully and brilliantly composed but with a mix of styles that defies categorization. It’s an undoubted original, and it’s as compelling to watch the tenth time as it is the first.” For Joshua Rothkopf, in a five-star Time Out New York review, it’s a “thriller of shocking modernity” and is “unforgettable, paced to the rhythms of a nightmare.” According to Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay, it’s a “glorious one-off . . . the sort of masterpiece that other directors spend a career working up to.” Eric Henderson, in Slant, calls it a “genre-transcending wonder” and a “lucid, poetic, terrifying work of pure intuition,” and provides a nice piece of information: Cahiers du cinéma “recently voted it the second ‘most beautiful’ movie ever made, just behind Citizen Kane.”

    And in Interview, Brendon Bouzard is particularly impressed by one of the supplements in this special edition, the feature-length documentary Charles Laughton Directs “The Night of the Hunter,” which is made up of footage of Laughton working with the actors. “As a document of an artist's process, it’s invaluable, and as a stand-alone work, it's remarkably entertaining, with Laughton's dyspeptic dissatisfaction informing our take on the actors’ work.”

    UPDATE 01DEC2010: The AV Club’s Scott Tobias calls the film “the greatest directorial one-off in cinema history.”

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