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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.
Boy, this shows that you can still make a scary movie without a lot of
blood, profanity and whatever. Hollywood didn't learn that, however,
featuring all of it less than a decade after this was made. The Martin
Scorcese re-make of this movie is exactly what I'm talking about.
This original Cape Fear was legitimately scary, thanks to the performance of Robert Mitchum, who doesn't need to resort to the f-word to be a tough, sick and really an evil character as he stalks Gregory Peck and his wife (Polly Bergen) and daughter (Lori Martin).
Bergan and Martin are two women I don't see too much in films which is too bad. They did a lot more TV work than movies. Another thing you don't see much anymore - a nice, sympathetic policeman - was also portrayed in here nicely by Martin Balsam.
The ending has some holes in it, to be sure, but overall it offers a good 106- minute suspense story.
Martin Scorsese's version of "Cape Fear" had its moments, but overall
was something of a chaotic picture. Its "satire" (or lack thereof)
didn't really have a point, and its over-the-top visuals seemed to be
compensating for a lack of content. It seemed less like Scorsese and
more like DePalma.
Thompson's original is better - more scary, more thrilling, more diabolical and realistic. Whereas De Niro's scenery-chewing performance in the remake was almost laughable, Robert Mitchum's spine-tingling turn here as Max Cady is one of the great human movie monsters - he's a demon at spirit, no in physicality.
He seeks revenge on Gregory Peck and his family after Peck puts him away in jail for a few years.
Scorsese's version was more updated and in that sense its general themes were more believable - Cady's psyche was more exposed, his violence exploitative - and the romance between Cady and Sam Bowden's daughter in the original is nonexistent. In fact, the extent of his harm towards her is when he chases her around an empty school.
Still, this is a better version of the movie because it has more strengths than the remake. Visually it's not as impressive but it makes more of an impact as a thriller.
There's nothing worse than a con who knows his way around the law,and exploits that knowledge to the hilt.Robert Mitchum does this very expertly in the original and best version of Cape Fear.You want to reach out and strangle him,but he is within the law,so you can't.This is the appeal of this film.It's the fuel that keeps it going from start to finish.Along with Mitchum,we have Gregory Peck as the tormented lawyer who sent Mitchum's character,Max Cady to jail for rape years earlier. Having studied law while behind bars,Cady's only intent with his gathering of this knowledge,is to torment Sam Bowden(Peck) and his family.It all leads to a classic finish.I truly believe that this film was a precursor to the thriller films of today.It was a sign of things to come in the cinematic world.It was way ahead of it's time.Worthy of note here is Robert Mitchum's ability to improvise almost to the point of becoming his character.The scene where he cracks the egg with his bare hand was not scripted,and the look of surprise on Polly Bergen's face was indeed real.Outstanding film.
Mitchum was, if anything, even more powerful in "Cape Fear," possibly
because his antagonist this time was the perfectly contrasting Gregory
Mitchum played a sex criminal, freed after eight years in prison, who returned to a sleepy little town to terrorize the witness (Gregory Peck) whom he blamed for his conviction
The ex-con uttered no threats, used no violence, broke no laws and the police were therefore helpless But his very presence, the tone of his voice, the look in his eyes as he turned them lazily on Peck's attractive wife and adolescent daughter showed with unmistakable and cumulative menace that he would surely take his revenge
Peck planted his wife and daughter on a safely moored houseboat to tempt Mitchum into a trap...
Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) is a happily married lawyer with a teenage
daughter, a quiet life and little worries to care for until released
convict Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) moves near by seeking for revenge
against him. Cady blames Bowden for his 8 years imprisonment because
the lawyer failed to get him an innocent verdict in Court for a serious
crime he was accused of (and he had committed). The man starts by
stalking Bowden and his family while he waits for the appropriate
moment to make his move. In the meantime, Cady does not hide his
intentions and Bowden knows perfectly well they are in big trouble.
The film is tense all along and interest doesn't fall at any moment. There is a correct direction by J. Lee Thompson, a slightly more than average director who probably did here one of his best jobs (the other one "The Guns of Navarone" (1962) a very entertaining World War II adventure). Black and white shooting was a good idea and helps to create some sort of sordid and dark atmosphere when required as well as the musical score.
Casting is very good too. Gregory Peck is correct in one of his many common good guy roles. Polly Bergen is believable as the frightened wife and there is also good acting by Martin Balsam (as Bowden's chief of police friend) and Telly Savalas (as a private detective hired to help the family). But the major credit in this issue goes without doubt to Robert Michum's performance as the dangerous avenger. He looks calm and quiet -with few exceptions- all the way to the final climax sequences but you know perfectly the man is real mean and deadly. This surely was one of Mitchum's best appearances in his long film carrier.
The 1991 Cape Fear version with Robert de Niro -although a watchable movie- is not as good and thrilling as this one where evil doesn't appear clearly till the end but menace is always there.
A very good thriller indeed!
Sam Bowden is a lawyer who, eight years ago, acted as a witness against Max
Cady to put him behind bars. Released from prison, Cady has studied the law
and is set on terrorising the Bowdens without actually overstepping his
legal rights. As Cady toes the line with increasingly worrying results,
Browden begins to cross the line to deal with him and protect his
Having seen the remake first I wanted to go back and see it done originally. My first impression was that the remake had done some elements better than this. For example Nolte's lawyer is a lot less clean-cut than Pecks'. Also the sexual threat to the daughter is a lot more played out in the remake. Getting past this I saw how this was actually a better film in many ways. As a drama it moves along at a good pace not jumping from one thrill to the next but not dragging either.
The film can only hint at the deeds of Cady because of the censors but it is clear even to the blind that Cady is a monster. This ups the tension as everything is slowly build to and we don't get a bloody or sexually shocking scene as a pay-off, no, here the tension is build on top of other tension. The direction is good, giving a dark feel to the look of the film as well as hinting constantly. Even if some of the thrills are signposted it still works well.
However, without Mitchum's performance this would be a very different film. With the help of De Niro's sneer or menacing tattoos, he is still a better Cady. He is on top form where De Niro wore his threat large, Mitchum hints at it under a veneer of casual disinterest, making the threat seem bigger when he acts. Peck is good even if his character is too clean-cut when he should have been pushed further over the line for my tastes. Bergen doesn't have much to do, but her final scene with Mitchum is powerful and she really lets rip. Martin is perfectly cast she looks like a child but also is `developed' enough to be a sexual role for Mitchum to prey on. It is easy to watch her as Mitchum closes in on her, almost licking his lips, but that's the power of the film.
Overall this manages to be powerful and thrilling despite the censors and is a really good drama. However it is totally carried by a monstrous yet subtle performance by Mitchum. De Niro was good in the role but once you've seen this you'll realise that menace can be acted subtly and not just by sneering and getting tonnes of tattoos.
So acclaimed was Robert Mitchum's performance as the amoral,
animalistic Max Cady it probably escapes most people's attention that
Cape Fear was produced by co-star Gregory Peck.
One film before was the one that united star Gregory Peck with director J. Lee Thompson. That would be The Guns of Navarone which was both a critical and box office success. Thompson and Peck enjoyed working with each other and decided the next film would be light years from The Guns of Navarone.
Both Peck and Thompson agreed that this story about a homicidal ex-convict terrorizing a man who was a witness against him and his family needed a star of equal stature for the part of the convict as well as the good citizen who Peck was playing. Mitchum was contacted and agreed.
I've always felt that it always showed what a class act Gregory Peck was in that even though it was his film and Mitchum got the acclaim for the film, Peck never betrayed one hint of jealousy about the plaudits Mitchum got.
Max Cady was about as nasty a creature as had ever been shown on screen up to that time. The Production Code was breaking down and Thompson and Peck took great advantage of that. Today it would be nothing, but when Cady smeared that egg matter over Polly Bergen's chest it was considered risqué at the time.
Polly Bergen was Gregory Peck's wife and Lori Martin his daughter in the film. Other performances of note are of Telly Savalas as a private detective, Martin Balsam as the town police chief, and Jack Kruschen as Cady's lawyer, one bottom feeding shyster. In the remake of Cape Fear which had Nick Nolte as Sam Bowen, Peck's part, and Robert DeNiro as Cady, Both Mitchum and Peck agreed to play some of the minor parts. This time Mitchum was in Balsam's old part as the police chief and Gregory Peck whose most famous role was as Atticus Finch, played the bottom feeder. After that remake you could definitely say Peck played the legal profession at both ends.
The story of Cape Fear is about an upright moral man, not unlike Atticus Finch who has to get down and dirty in order to deal with a totally amoral man who lives by no rules. Kind of like what the western world has to do in dealing with terrorists of all shapes and sizes. Their confrontation on the Cape Fear River where Peck has to catch Mitchum red handed in order to bring him to justice or kill him is one for cinema history.
One perverse individual can exploit his freedom by using it to encroach
on someone else's. That is the problem with a society which cherishes
personal liberty. The community has the dilemma of deciding whose freedom
it ought to protect. At what point should the state intervene?
Today, modern democracies have anti-harrassment laws which carry criminal penalties, and there is also the civil remedy of an injunction with power of arrest, but back in the early 1960's a man who chose to make a nuisance of himself enjoyed wide latitude. It was difficult for the law to step in without infringing his civil and constitutional rights.
Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) is a small-town attorney in the south-eastern United States. He has a lovely family and a nice home, and is well thought of by neighbours and colleagues alike. This American idyll is destroyed when a newly-released convict shows up, intent on harrassing Bowden. Some years back, the lawyer had appeared as a witness at this man's trial, and the convict bears an irrational grudge.
Max Cady is one of the cinema's great villains. Mitchum is irresistible as the heavy-eyed smart alec seething with sexual energy. Cady's sharp but warped intelligence is disturbing to behold (the way he obtains Bowden's vacation address is chillingly impressive). He begins to show up wherever Bowden goes, an ominous sarcastic presence to which no objection can be made, so long as he stays within the law. Cady's salient traits are placed before us right from the start of the film. He is completely callous (ignoring the girl who drops her books on the stairs) and a nasty sexual predator (picking up the waitress in the bowling alley).
"Cape Fear" is a taut, absorbing thriller. Mitchum's charisma fills the screen, and the dark eerie look (by Director of Photography Sam Leavitt) compounds the feeling of menace. The incidental music is excellent.
However, the film has some implausible ingredients. Why would a woman who has just been sexually degraded, and is clearly traumatised, be handed over by the police to the care of a private eye? (Charlie Sievers the gumshoe is played by Telly Savalas - with hair!) Would a criminal attorney really - no matter what the provocation - hire waterfront thugs to beat up a stalker? How come Sam's gun is still effective after being immersed in the river? Why doesn't Nancy's phone work? It is preposterous to suggest that Cady would waste time on the elaborate feint towards Peggy instead of pursuing his real victim. And how can it be that Cady can defeat three ruffians single-handed, overwhelm a police bodyguard with ease, yet fail to defeat Sam, even when armed with a stick?
Verdict - Allowing for the improbabilities, this is a well-made thriller with a magnificent performance by Mitchum.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I first saw J. Lee Thompson's film I was on the edge of my seat.
It is a scary thriller without showing buckets of blood, graphic
violence, monster make-up, or even using the word "rape".
A bitter, amoral, psychopathic ex-con, Max Cady (the incomparable Robert Mitchum), recently released from an eight-year prison term, is out for revenge against the man who testified against him at his trial, lawyer Sam Bowden (the late, great, Gregory Peck). He infiltrates into Sam's life, stalking his lovely wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen, no shrinking violet), and his pretty, innocent teenage daughter, Nancy (the appropriately sweet Lori Martin). Sam does everything legally possible (for the time, before anti-stalking laws came into place) to protect his family, but he finds he is powerless under the law, and Cady is very intelligent in his planning. It all ends in a showdown on the river Cape Fear.
Let me just say that this movie has an advantage over the 1991 remake. Cady doesn't have to be covered in tattoos or act like Freddy Krueger to be terrifying. The word "rape" doesn't have to be mentioned nor does the offense have to be shown to us graphically (since the censors of the time forbade it) for the viewer to understand and comprehend what is going on. The performances are all right on, and even when Barrie Chase's Diane Taylor is assaulted, we don't have to be told that she was raped, because it's implied and it's written all over her bruised, traumatized face. Her portrayal of this victimized and frightened young woman is impeccable - why didn't she have a longer career?
Gregory Peck is compelling, and the scenes where Nancy is pursued by Cady outside her school and she escapes inside, only to fear that he has also followed her in (and she is mistaken) is absolutely nail-biting, as is the final showdown. Cady's devious plan to accost Peggy on the boat in order to "trade" her for Nancy is gut-wrenching and extremely watchable. We now have a names for guys like that - rapist, stalker, pedophile, murderer - but the first three were either not used or hadn't been made a term yet. A classic, don't accept any substitutions. As I usually give so much away in my comments, I'll leave the plot details at that. Bernard Hermann's score for the film is perfect, and ranks right along with his score for Alfred Hitchcock's "PSYCHO" - a masterpiece. And so is the movie. Don't watch it alone or in a dark room! 10/10.
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