Shock and awe, revisited

The Night of the Hunter was greeted with blank stares when it came out, in 1955. Robert Mitchum went on to other things. Charles Laughton, who’d never directed a film before, was never allowed to make another.

And yet, it’s a landmark movie: No. 2 on the Cahiers du Cinéma’s top 100, and “one of the greatest of all American films” (according to Roger Ebert). You know the plot (loosely based on West Virginia’s real life “Bluebeard of Quiet Dell”): Mitchum plays an ex-con and killer who’s out for blood and money—he’s got the letters L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E tattooed just beneath his knuckles. But the backstory’s fascinating, and the Criterion Collection’s reissue (out on Nov. 16) includes outtakes, new and old makings-of, and a clip of the cast reenacting a deleted scene, live, on The Ed Sullivan Show.

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