Small-town lawyer Sam Bowden's life becomes torturous when Max Cady re-enters his life. Cady went to jail for 8 years after Bowden testified that Cady attacked a young woman. Now that Cady has been released, he begins to terrorize Bowden and his family, particularly targeting Bowden's daughter, Nancy. Initially, Cady uses his newfound knowledge of the law (learned in prison) to annoy the Bowdens, then poisons the family dog... Who's next ? Written by
Chris Holland <email@example.com>
For the first time Hitchcock was decisively beaten at his own game. This is one of the tensest films ever made, and also one of the most perfectly crafted. There are so many things right about it I can afford to concentrate on just two:
(1) Sam Bowden is a firm believer in the sanctity of civil liberties until Cady starts to stalk his family - and he remains a believer even then. He is asked if he really wants the police to have the power to arrest citizens on suspicion alone; and, although his family is in danger, he cannot honestly answer yes. `Cape Fear' is clearly the product of a less bloodthirsty age. But it is the better for it: a clash between deeply held principles and deeply held desires isn't at all interesting unless it really IS a clash - unless the principles are strong enough not to give way at the first breath of wind. And damn it, Bowden is right. The police do NOT have the right to arrest Cady. The potential tragedy is genuine: not something that could be cleaned up if only so-and-so would drop a few pointless scruples.
(2) Robert Mitchum really alarms us. I think it's because his motivations are a little, but not entirely, opaque. When we first see him eyeing Bowden's teen-aged daughter, we don't know exactly what he's thinking any more than Sam does. Is he sexually attracted to her? Does he want to kill her? Rape her? Is he indifferent but just trying to get a rise out of Sam? Indeed: what, exactly, does he want to do to Sam himself? We don't know: and this uncertainty is worse than any precise knowledge.
I doubt I've said enough. `Cape Fear' is riveting from first frame to last. It's well shot, the acting is excellent, and Bernard Herrmann gives us his usual fitting score. It appeals to the intellect as much as to the pit of the stomach. Great stuff.
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