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Modern Times and The Night of the Hunter among new DVD releases 

MODERN TIMES (1936). The American Film Institute named Some Like It Hot as the best comedy of all time; the IMDb voters currently have Toy Story 3 ranked as the best comedy; Rotten Tomatoes' critical mass holds Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb as the pinnacle of comedic perfection; four different British media outlets designated Monty Python's Life of Brian as best of the best; and this nation's frat boys would doubtless consider The Hangover the greatest comedy ever made. My pick? It has long been Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, although folks who cite either Chaplin's City Lights or The Gold Rush can certainly defend their choice. Chaplin's works were always a blend of inspired comedy, unforced poignancy and sharp social commentary, and these elements were arguably best combined in this riotous satire in which Chaplin's Little Tramp — the last time he would ever play this beloved character — has trouble finding, and then retaining, employment. Hunger, homelessness, and the uncaring attitude of the American workplace all figure in the proceedings, making Modern Times as topical today as when it was first released. Yet for all its heavy subjects, this is a comedy first and foremost, and as such, it features some of Chaplin's most brilliant — and most hilarious — set pieces. The various factory (at the beginning) and restaurant (at the end) sequences are deservedly legendary, although I always laugh the hardest during the wonderfully staged skating segment.

Extras in Criterion's two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson; two visual essays by Chaplin historians Jeffrey Vance and John Bengtson; two deleted scenes; Chaplin's 1916 short film, The Rink; a home movie by Alistair Cooke featuring Chaplin and his wife (and Modern Times co-star) Paulette Goddard; and the film's American, French and German theatrical trailers.

Movie: ****

Extras: ***1/2

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). This is it, folks, the one that includes a character with the words "LOVE" and "HATE" tattooed on his fingers. That would be Preacher Harry Powell, portrayed by Robert Mitchum in the finest performance he would ever give. Powell is both a murderer and a misogynist, which leads him to kill lonely widows for their money — in the name of God, of course. After a brief incarceration (for stealing a car) that places him in the same cell with a bank robber (Peter Graves) facing execution, he decides to ingratiate himself to the crook's widow (Shelley Winters) and children (Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce) in the hopes of locating the missing bank money. The kids know its location but aren't talking; this leads Powell to take some drastic measures and lands the children in the arms of a benevolent woman (Lillian Gish) who understands that "it's a hard world for little things." Actor Charles Laughton's only stint as director is an atmospheric yarn full of striking imagery by cinematographer Stanley Cortez and knowing dialogue by James Agee (adapting Davis Grubbs' novel) — a unique blend of fractured fairy tale, Southern gothic grisliness and striking German expressionism, with some pitch-black humor thrown in for good measure. A flop when released, it's only grown in stature and influence over the ensuing years (for starters, Spike Lee would pay homage to Powell's tattooed knuckles via the character of Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing).

Extras in Criteron's two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by second-unit director Terry Sanders, film critic F.X. Feeney, film archivist Robert Gitt and author Preston Neal Jones (Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter); a making-of featurette; a short 1995 making-of piece featuring interviews with Mitchum and Winters; an interview with actor and author Simon Callow (Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor); and the 2-1/2-hour work Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: ****

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