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by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: The Night of the Hunter (The Criterion Collection)

The only film directed by actor Charles Laughton, this 1955 adaptation of Davis Grubb’s novel (scripted by James Agee) was not a success when first released, but has since rightfully taken its place among the classics.

In a towering performance that the actor himself considered among his best, Robert Mitchum is the epitome of evil as Harry Powell, a traveling preacher with hatred in his heart and murder on his mind. He’s on the trail of money stolen by his late cellmate (Peter Graves), so he marries the man’s widow (Shelley Winters) and insinuates himself into the lives of their children (Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce), all the way thirsting for the cash.

The children know Powell for what he really is, particularly after he murders their mother on their wedding night, and they take flight — only to be pursued by the relentless, rampaging reverend, until they find safe haven with kindly Miz Cooper (Lillian Gish), who knows well that “it’s a hard world for little things.”

In one of the most remarkable directorial debuts in Hollywood history, Laughton fashioned a stark, poetic and endlessly evocative parable about the betrayal of faith and the loss of innocence. The performances could hardly be bettered, with Chapin and Bruce (in her only feature film) giving two of the more astonishing child performances of the time, as well as Winters (at her most vulnerable), Gish (at her most appealing), and the unforgettable Mitchum (at his most malevolent), whose treatise on “love and hate” is now screen lore.

The DVD retails for $39.95, the Blu-ray for $49.95. Special features include an audio commentary, retrospective documentaries, interviews and more.

ALSO Available

CATFISH (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Billed as a “reality thriller” and presented and promoted as a documentary, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost helmed this outing about Ariel’s brother Nev as he begins corresponding with a new friend via the internet. A gimmicky combination of fact and fiction — to what extent is not entirely clear — that works best as a topic of debate more than anything else, although it’s not without interest. Rated PG-13.

EXOTIC MALICE (One 7 Movies/CAV Distributing): Mark Shannon (AKA Manlio Cersosimo) indulges his every carnal whim when he learns he’s dying, in this repetitiously raunchy chunk of ’80s-era Euro-smut, originally titled Sesso nero and directed by the prolific Joe D’Amato (AKA Aristide Massachessi and written by co-star George Eastman (AKA Luigi Montefiore). In Italian with English subtitles.

“GOSSIP GIRL”: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): A Dvd boxed set ($59.98 retail) containing all 22 episodes from the 2010-’11 season of the award-winning CW network drama series, based on Cecily von Ziegesar’s best-selling novels depicting the exploits of the rich and famous students at a prestigious Manhattan school. The cast includes Blake Lively and Leighton Meester, both making their respective bids for big-screen stardom these days, as well as Chace Crawford, Penn Badgley, Taylor Momsen and Kristen Bell (in the “title” role).

“HUMAN PLANET” (BBC Worldwide): John Hurt narrates this award-winning, eight part documentary miniseries that examines mankind’s relationship with nature in different civilizations and cultures around the globe. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $49.98.

LITTLE BIG SOLDIER (Well Go USA): Jackie Chan wrote and stars in this award-winning, action-packed martial-arts romp as a peasant soldier in ancient China who kidnaps a rival soldier (Wang Leehom), then must join forces with him in order to survive. In Mandarin with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $24.98, a DVD/Blu-ray combo for $29.98.

METEOR STORM (Monarch Home Entertainment): San Francisco gets slammed by the title disaster in this competent sci-fi adventure from director Tibor Takacs. The CGI effects range from fair to laughable. Kari Matchett and Michael Trucco head the (distinctly not all-star) cast.

“PARANORMAL STATE”: SEASON FIVE (A&E Home Entertainment): Things go bump in the night in this three-DVD boxed set ($24.95 retail) containing all 20 episodes from the 2010-’11 season of the A&E reality series, as founder Ryan Buell and the Penn State Paranormal Research Society investigate strange and mysterious occurrences.

THE PRESIDENT’S BOOK OF SECRETS (A&E Home Entertainment): Conspiracy theorists and political junkies will have a field day with this interesting, sometimes provocative, and not entirely conclusive History Channel documentary about the existence of the title volume, narrated by Jonathan Adams and featuring interviews with politicians, journalists, historians and scholars, including Dan Rather, Dan Quayle and even Newt Gingrich.

REMEMBERING 9/11 (Inception Media Group): A self-explanatory documentary ($12.98 retail) which details the events leading up to, and following, Sept. 11, 2001.

ROYAL WEDDING OF A LIFETIME (A&E Home Entertainment): Guess what this two-DVD documentary ($24.95 retail) is about? Yes, it’s Prince William taking Kate Middleton as his bride.

“SEPTEMBER 11 TH ”: MEMORIAL EDITION (A&E Home Entertainment): To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, this two- DVD collection ($24.95 retail) from the History Channel includes such documentaries as the Emmy-winning 102 Minutes That Changed America as well as Hotel Ground Zero, The Miracle of Stairway B, and The Day the Towers Fell.

SOMETHING BORROWED (Warner Home Video): Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin headline this romantic comedy, based on Emily Giffin’s best-seller as best friends whose relationship becomes complicated when they fall for the same guy (Colin Egglesfield). Available as a single-disc DVD ($28.98 retail) of a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($28.98 retail). Rated PG-13.

“SOUTH RIDING” (BBC Worldwide): An idealistic young teacher (Anna Maxwell Martin) returns to the Yorkshire community where she grew up to teach at a girls’ school during the Depression in this award-winning BBC miniseries co-starring David Morrissey, Penelope Wilton and Peter Firth, and now available on DVD ($24.98 retail).

STEAMY ARTHOUSE HITS (First Run Features): A four-film collection ($49.95 retail) of provocative, critically acclaimed foreign films: Elodie Bouchez and Jean-Marc Barr headline writer/director Didier Le Pecheir’s 1998 Frenchlanguage Don’t Let Me Die on a Sunday (Jaimerais pas crever un dimnache); Maximilian Schell and Angela Winkler star in director Vadim Glowna’s 2006 German-language adaptation of House of the Sleeping Beauties (Das Haus der schlafenden Schonen); writer/director Jean-Claude Brissau’s award-winning 2002 French-language comedy/ drama Secret Things (Choses secretes); and writer/ director Pablo Berger’s award-winning 2003 Spanish-language comedy/drama Torremolinos 73 with Javier Camara and Candela Pena.

STILL WALKING (The Criterion Collection): A special edition of Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s awardwinning 2008 drama (original title: Aruitemo aruitemo) focusing on a day in the life of a contemporary Japanese family, with all its pitfalls and joys. In Japanese with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95.

WAKE WOOD (MPI/Dark Sky Films): Spooky doings are afoot in this Irish-lensed shocker produced by the latest incarnation of Britain’s fabled Hammer Films, featuring Aiden Gillen, Eva Birthistle and Timothy Spall. The DVD retails for $27.98, the Blu-ray for $34.98.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger

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