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TURN-ONS AND TURN-OFFS IN CURRENT HOME ENTERTAINMENT RELEASES : ****Excellent ***Good **Fair *Poor : VIDEOCASSETTES

October 20, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON | Compiled by Terry Atkinson

"The Night of the Hunter." MGM/UA. $24.95. Released in 1955, "Hunter" ranks with "Citizen Kane" and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" among the greatest dramatic American films. So why hasn't it received similar acclaim? Probably because it doesn't fit the director-obsessed auteur theory that dominates film criticism; auteurists can't talk about the place of this film in Charles Laughton's "body of work" since it's the only picture the actor ever directed. James Agee's brilliant screenplay was based upon an experimental novel by Davis Grubb. Not that Laughton's direction isn't a match for the material; the result is a powerfully cinematic modern allegory of love and fear. It features Robert Mitchum's finest performance, as a phony backwoods preacher who's the very personification of evil--contrasted against the innocence of the two children he pursues (because they know where money is hidden), the gullibility of their mother (Shelley Winters) and the saintliness of the woman (Lillian Gish) who shelters them. Strongly influenced by Expressionism, by turns naturalistic and stylized, "Hunter" contains some unforgettable scenes--including a river-escape sequence of such beauty that it alone makes this video worth owning. Information: (213) 653-5910. ****

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