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A Real good one for Thrillers
ragosaal9 September 2006
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!
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More than just creepy
Spleen4 August 1999
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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Good drama made great by an excellent Mitchum
bob the moo5 December 2002
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 family.

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.
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An Original - If It Ain't Broken, Don't Fix It
Noirdame798 December 2004
Warning: 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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Mitchum was powerful in Thompson's suspenseful thriller...
Nazi_Fighter_David30 April 2005
Mitchum was, if anything, even more powerful in "Cape Fear," possibly because his antagonist this time was the perfectly contrasting Gregory Peck…

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...
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"You're Just An Animal!"
stryker-52 January 2000
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.
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Better than the remake
MovieAddict201612 October 2005
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.
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Stick With This One: The Original
ccthemovieman-125 April 2006
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.
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As Nasty A Creature As Had Ever Been Shown
bkoganbing2 February 2007
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.
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Effective and somewhat ahead of it's time
SmileysWorld6 July 2002
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.
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Delivers the Goods
dougdoepke28 April 2012
When Cady (Mitchum) slips into the water, it's like an alligator sneaking up on its prey. Except this is a houseboat with two vulnerable women in his sights. With those sleepy eyes, it's hard to know just what sadistic acts he's got in mind, but we know it's too grisly for the screen. Remember what he did to poor Diane (Chase), and he wasn't even mad at her. Cape Fear should have been named Cape Fear, Shudder and Sweat.

This is about the last word in stalker movies. More importantly, it shows how using less often produces more. Mitchum underplays the stalker role, but he also knows how to imply unspeakable evil, which is really more effective than blood splatter. It's what's in your imagination that's really scary. Ditto Peck, (Sam) whose on-screen reserve speaks volumes in grim determination-- he's got to protect his family. Only Bergen as the terrified wife gets to really cut loose. What a first-rate cast, plus expert pacing from director Thompson.

I guess the movie's moral is that if the law can't protect you, you've got to do it yourself. At that primitive level, there's no holds barred. So the tension really mounts as we discover Cady's animal cunning is too much for the law or even for hired thugs. In the end, then, it's going to have to be Cady vs. Sam, mano y mano. It's sort of like a modern morality tale of the nuclear family vs. a swamp beast. No doubt about it, the movie's a real nail-biter the whole way.
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Robert Mitchum at his creepy best
Chris Gaskin30 September 2004
I recently picked up a VHS copy of Cape Fear from a market and watched and found it an excellent movie. This is long deleted on video in Britain, so I was lucky to see it.

A lawyer and his family are terrorised by a killer he helped to put in prison. Released after eight years, he wants his revenge. He starts by poisoning the family dog and he kills a woman before picking on the lawyer's daughter. The family flee to their houseboat and the killer is finally arrested after he is set up and faces many more years in prison.

This is Robert Mitchum at his creepy best, in a role very similar to the one he played in Night Of the Hunter.

The lawyer is played by Gregory Peck and the movie also stars Polly Bergen, Martin Balsam and an early role for Telly Savalas (Kojak).

The excellent score is by the great Bernard Herrmann (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Psycho).

This movie was rather creepy in parts and is a must for any movie fan.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5.
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Max Cady isn't a man who makes idle threats.
Spikeopath8 February 2009
Max Cady is fresh out of prison and down in Florida looking for someone in particular. That person is lawyer Sam Bowden, the man who Cady holds responsible for his years of incarceration. Once Bowden realises that Cady is out for revenge, and that his family are in serious danger, he turns to the police for help, but unable to get help from them, he goes outside of the law, and all parties are heading for the foreboding place known as Cape Fear.

Brilliant villainy, unnerving story and suspense pouring from every frame, Cape Fear is an abject lesson in how to produce a quality thriller. Based on a novel called The Executioners written by John D. MacDonald, the piece is bolstered by some perfect casting decisions and by having a director able to pace with precision, thus it stands tall and proud as a highlight in a tough old genre. Robert Mitchum is Cady, a big hulking man with an immoral face, he terrifies purely by his undaunted objectives, with Mitchum clearly revelling in such a role. As Bowden we have Gregory Peck, playing it right as the uptight and stiff lawyer forced to find toughness from within. Backed up by excellent cameos from Martin Balsam, Telly Savalas and Polly Bergen, Cape Fear also features one of Bernard Herrmann's finest scores, a complete and utter nerve shredder that hangs in the ears long after the film has finished.

What lifts this above many of its thriller peers is that its dialogue is firmly accentuated by the character portrayals, watch as Cady calmly digresses about how he learnt the law in prison, or how he seeps with deviant sexual aggression when confronting the Bowden women, it's badness personified and literally a force of evil, so much so that the breaking of an egg is metaphorically a portent of pain unbound. Director J. Lee Thompson's career shows him to have been a steady if unspectacular director at times, but he directs this with no amount of zip and he deftly reins it in for a stifling last quarter at the Cape Fear bayou. Along with his cinematographer, Sam Leavitt, Thompson expertly uses shadow and light to consistently keep the feeling of dread looming as much of a hostile presence as Bobby Mitchum is throughout the play.

By the time the finale reveals its denouement, it's hoped that you are as living on your nerves as this particular viewer always is when viewing this clinically sharp piece of thriller cinema. 9/10
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Night Of The Hunter
Lechuguilla22 October 2007
Former convict Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) seeks revenge against Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), the man whose testimony sent Cady to prison for eight years. But that revenge is not initially physical. Instead, it takes the form of intimidation and psychological terror against Bowden's wife (Polly Bergen) and young daughter, Nancy.

Cady is a low-life who hangs out in seedy bars and treats women badly. He smokes cigars and wears a Panama hat. In contrast, lawyer Bowden and his goody-goody family live in a big house with a manicured lawn.

What's interesting here is that, as criminals go, Cady is quite smart. His intimidation tactics stay well beyond the law's reach. For example, at a boat launch, Cady stares lasciviously at Nancy. Bowden notices, and in disgust tries to engage Cady in a fight. But Cady refuses, noting nearby witnesses who could be called to testify against Bowden, the aggressor. And so it goes, throughout much of the story; wherever Bowden goes, Cady is somewhere nearby. He hovers, like a hawk over its prey, waiting for just the right moment. Cady's terror is what he might do.

The last part of the film takes place on or near a houseboat on the Cape Frear River in North Carolina, where Bowden's wife and daughter are holed up. Here, at night, in the midst of wilderness, Cady pursues his prey. He's a night stalker, or hunter, silent like a snake, sly, ever watchful, cold-blooded and reptilian. Amid the stillness and dark shadows, Cady creeps closer and closer.

Bernard Herrmann's eerie background music reminds me of the music in "Psycho". Filmed in B&W, both films use high contrast lighting. The music/lighting combo exudes a high level of tension and suspense.

Even though Gregory Peck is the film's protagonist, "Cape Fear" really belongs to Mitchum, who gives a very good performance as the villain. Peck's performance is adequate; Polly Bergen tries a tad too hard and comes off as melodramatic, especially toward the end. The always reliable Martin Balsam shows up in this film, as he did in "Psycho", with a very credible performance as a good guy cop.

With great B&W cinematography, appropriately frenetic "Psycho"-like music, effective plot structure, and a fine performance by Robert Mitchum, "Cape Fear" is a highly suspenseful film.
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insane man terrorizes a family
helpless_dancer29 April 1999
Robert Mitchum was born for this role. He played the evil Max Cady as though Cady's spirit was actually inside him. Cady was a psychopathic murderer who became obsessed with a couple and their daughter. To counteract this persistent attention, the couple hired a security agent. When this went terribly wrong, the family made a run for their houseboat. Unfortunately, Cady was wise to them leading to a nail biting finale. 5 stars go to this great film.
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utterly terrifying
kalibeans14 April 2012
The original Cape Fear has always been one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. Mitchum's sociopathic creepiness is a real powerhouse performance. I was amazed to read under the trivia section here on IMDb that it was a financial failure at the time it was released and caused Gregory Peck's production company to fold. Without any of the tricks used in today's horror films this movie truly frightens. Every time I see it I have a moment where I feel so horribly for anyone who has had to deal with a criminal who they testified against being released from prison. To this day I cannot see Mitchum in any other role without thinking of Max Cady. At one point he silently slips into water and immediately you think of a slithering snake and every fear that comes with imagines associated with snakes floods your mind. His entire character is laid out like an open book in a brilliantly designed opening shot by an extremely simple but utterly effective movement by Mitchum. He is walking up a set of stairs and passes a woman with an armload of books and ever so slightly brushes against her as he passes causing her to spill some books to the floor. Without a glance or a blink or a flinch of any kind he continues up the stairs without breaking a stride. Made even more creepy considering the time the film was made when men would always have stopped to help a lady pick them up. That simple scene brings a sense of foreboding for what is to come. This is a movie I would not watch for the first time alone at night if you are a woman. Absolutely in my top 20 films list.
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Now THIS is a thriller.
smeisky1 August 2006
Let me start by saying that I am, and have always been, a fan of the villains. When I first started learning how to use Macromedia Dreamweaver, my test site was a shrine to the various villains in the various stories I've written throughout my life. The villain remains to this day the best way to advance the dramatic tension of the plot, and I hold a deep respect for them because of it.

That being said, this is possibly the first movie that has made me root for the hero to win, while still having a truly good (so to speak) villain. Gregory Peck's caring and responsible family man plays perfectly against Robert Mitchum's sleazy, cigar-smoking, prostitute-beating rapist. (It would've been nice if Mitchum could've done something like this seven years earlier in Night of the Hunter, but I'll gripe about that in its own review.) Peck plays one of those heroes that even a villain nut like me can't help but root for, and Mitchum couldn't have been a more despicably good villain if he tried.

Nearly everything else about this film is perfectly executed. The suspense, the relations between the characters, the script, the believability of the situations and actions, and of course, the acting...with one rather glaring exception. Where did Lori Martin learn to act? Talk about annoying! No, she wasn't bad enough that I didn't care about what would happen to her character, but it would've been nice if she had taken a few acting classes before showing up on set. I probably could've given a more believable performance as Gregory Peck's daughter when I was that age. And when I was that age, Gregory Peck was eighty-six.

But in the end, the movie came through. If you ask me, this, not Night of the Hunter, is the film Robert Mitchum should be remembered for. (And before anyone (because I know there are some of you out there) starts berating me about only saying that because I was disappointed by Night of the Hunter, I actually saw this movie first.)
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After all these years, still frightening
paul_johnr2 April 2006
J. Lee Thompson's black-and-white revenge thriller is still effective after its debut 45 years ago, perhaps even more so today with a growing awareness of sexual predators and child abductions. 'Cape Fear' was a very risqué film for its time, receiving numerous edits from the American and British censorship boards and nearly being slapped with an 'X' rating in the United Kingdom. But when all was said and done, the material for a good film was there, coming down to us with nail-biting suspense for which 'Cape Fear' is known.

The adaptation by James Webb of John MacDonald's novel 'The Executioners' was a perfect vehicle for all involved. J. Lee Thompson, recently off an Oscar nomination for 'The Guns of Navarone,' was still very much within his element after a series of British realist dramas that included 'North West Frontier' and 'Tiger Bay.' Robert Mitchum, one of the more underrated strongmen in film history, was physically and temperamentally ideal as Max Cady and Gregory Peck eased into the Sam Bowden mix of family man and protector. Peck actually teamed with Universal Pictures to make 'Cape Fear'; the entire cast and crew was hand-picked, resulting in this vintage gem.

'Cape Fear' boasts a plot that was extraordinary for its time and has been copied repeatedly. The story follows a Savannah layer named Sam Bowden (Peck) who is visited by Max Cady (Mitchum), an imposing man whom Bowden testified against in a Baltimore trial. Cady was sent to jail for raping a woman and, eight years removed from entering prison, he vows to make Bowden pay for his civic duty. He turns the Bowden family's life into Hell on Earth, following Sam, his wife Peg (Polly Bergen), and adolescent daughter Nancy (Lori Martin) around town. Along the way, he fatally poisons their dog and rapes a newcomer to Savannah, Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase).

Sam Bowden, a man of law and order, uses every legal tactic within his reach to drive Cady out of town. With help from police chief Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam) and a private detective named Charlie Seavers (Telly Savalas), he tries to drum up pretentious charges. Cady, however, has learned a great deal about the justice system while in prison, rambling off statute effortlessly. Bowden grows desperate, soon offering Cady hard dollars in exchange for leaving his family alone, hiring a band of enforcers to rough him up, and even considering murder. To make matters worse, Sam discovers that Cady is the lowest of all sexual predators, targeting his young daughter.

Shocking in 1962, 'Cape Fear' is no less effective today, in an age of Megan's Law and Amber Alerts. The social landscape has changed since this film was made - laws have been passed in an effort to restrict the movement of sex offenders - but the Bowdens, an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation a la Hitchcock, are still easy to associate with. The danger that Cady brings is excruciating and he also reveals the failures of law enforcement with his own disgusting brand of irony.

As J. Lee Thompson has said, Max Cady is the focal character, a sarcastic man with visibly bad intentions. Robert Mitchum, who is listed as 6' 1" in height, is such a dominant force both physically and emotionally, that he seems closer to 6' 5" or 6' 6". Because of this, Sam Bowden comes across as quite ordinary, although Gregory Peck's character takes on a bold dimension in the final half-hour. The film could not have managed without an excellent supporting cast and everyone delivers. Martin Balsam is quietly superb as usual, Telly Savalas does well as a slick private eye, and the portrayals of Bowden's family by Polly Bergan and Lori Martin fit like neat pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Jack Kruschen (as Dave Grafton, Cady's lawyer) and Barrie Chase are not asked for very much, but help in spurring the plot.

Cinematographer Samuel Leavitt ('Anatomy of a Murder,' 'Exodus') uses black and white filming techniques that give 'Cape Fear' a sinister edge not attainable in color. Part of what makes 'Cape' such an effective story is its use of shadow and the 'bare bones' feeling that is common in film noir. In the early 21st century, this film takes on an added gloominess, seeming to come from an innocent, bygone world and yet shattering our illusions. George Tomasini, an editor for several of Hitchcock's films including 'North by Northwest' and 'Psycho,' is a major complement to Thompson's well-paced direction. 'Cape Fear' is also not complete without the score of Bernard Herrmann, another Hitchcock regular. Writing on the orchestral scale of 50 years ago, Herrmann's music is notable for its use of ponderous strings and explosive brass. The score, in fact, was used almost verbatim in Martin Scorcese's 1991 remake.

Largely a potboiler, 'Cape Fear' has its flaws. There are plot holes, such as the willingness of Dutton to bend laws for Bowden's sake, and implausibility, such as how easily Cady pushes around the band of enforcers hired by Sam. The final scene taking place between a swamp house and houseboat is confusing at first and Sam swims downstream rather quickly to catch up with the villain. The circa-1960 attitudes towards violence against women are also painfully outdated. But none of this takes away from the core storyline, a twisted one for all times.

Universal has given 'Cape Fear' elite treatment on its DVD, offering anamorphic widescreen presentation with English captioning for the hearing impaired and subtitles in Spanish and French. The disc is chock full of bonus material that includes interviews with Peck and Thompson, photographs, posters, and the theatrical trailer. Peck and Thompson offer some fascinating insights, including censorship of the film and the original plan to cast Hayley Mills as Nancy. Bernard Herrmann's music is used throughout. The film itself is presented with clean visuals and Dolby-enhanced sound.

*** out of 4
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Classic thriller that set the standards for later movies.
Boba_Fett113828 May 2004
Many people know the 1991 remake but very few have actually seen the original. A shame because it is worth seeing- and to be known by more.

In a way "Cape Fear" seemed ahead of its time which it was not. It merely was a trend setter for later movies. The movie feels like it was made the same way as thrillers are made these days.

The movie doesn't rely on scary gory scene's and violence but more on the psychological thriller elements, it is thanks to Robert Mitchum that this works very well in the movie. He manages to put-, with his character, a certain tension in the movie.

The ending is a bit of a disappointing and not really tense or exciting. Another complaint is the way the dialog is delivered, it is done way too fast almost as if the actors were in an hurry, there are hardly any pauses between the sentences.

The famous musical score is from Bernard Hermann whose score was later reused for the 1991 remake, 16 years after his death. But the music wasn't the only thing that was reused, also the actors Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum and Martin Balsam reappeared in the remake. And then the question which movie is the better one? In my humble opinion the remake is even better and more exciting.

But judge for yourself which movie is the better one, both are recommendable.

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Scorsese's flawed remake still a better film
jacabiya22 April 2012
I watched the 1962 last night and was slightly disappointed, since I had seen this film before and enjoyed it a lot, but now seems a tad dated. Mitchum gives an outstanding performance, but the same can not be said of Peck who, as someone commented, seemed not to be into the story, giving a very bland performance (curious since this was a particularly good period in his career with his Oscar-winning performance in To Kill a Mockingbid, and his role in Guns of Navarone with the same director of this film). I also agree the daughter was miscast. You can't help comparing this film with Scorsese's, which has much more depth in character development, with bravura direction, photography and editing, and overall more accomplished in all production aspects (except music, of course) and De Niro's performance in that film, while it may be considered over-the-top, was to me bone-chilling. Notwithstanding, I prefer the ending in the 1962 version, compared to the ludicrous way Scorsese ended his film.
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What a great thriller!!!
byrann_gowan20 January 2012
In this film, a convicted rapist (Robert Mitchum) goes after the lawyer who testified against him (Gregory Peck) and his family.

This is pure horror at its finest. All of the performers here are what really make this one work, which is usually the key to making a movie work. So let's start off with that.

Martin Balsam is great as the Captain of the Police, Mark Dutton, who tries to help Peck's character. Lori Martin is wonderful as Nancy Bowden, the real victim in this movie. She plays the little girl part well, without it being over-the-top and annoying. Polly Bergen is wonderful as Peggy Bowden, Peck's wife in the film who tries to convince him to not resort to murder.

But, of course, no one shines more here than our two leading men, Mitchum and Peck. As he has proved in "The Night of the Hunter," he truly plays the bad guy well, and he is completely convincing. As for Peck, The same year this was released, another very important film in Peck's career came out, and it is perhaps his most famous role: I'm talking about "To Kill a Mockingbird." Once again, he plays a lawyer here, and he really knows how to play the good guy, because, in the end, you want him to win.

The story itself is quite scary, but the scariest scene in the movie is when Cady moves in on Nancy towards the end. By this point, we've seen what Cady can do, and because of this, we are scared for Nancy. After all, she's just a little girl. Mitchum, himself, looked very intimidating; I can see why Peck wanted him to play the part.

Now, usually, I mention how some movies got a treatment that I despise: the remake. This film got that treatment as well, and usually I avoid the remake. But, I've heard quite a few good things about the remake. First off, it's got Martin Scorsese as the director, which is almost always a good thing. Secondly, you've got Robert De Niro as the bad guy, who has acted in many of Scorsese's films ("Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "New York New York" "Raging Bull," "The King of Comedy" and "Goodfellas" before this role). Third, if the stars of the original appear in the remake, you know it's a decent remake. So, I say, if you feel like it, go check it out. I might.

All in all, a really good movie. I only wish that I could give it a 10/10, but I can't because the ending was a bit abrupt. So, a 9/10 from me.
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Pretty strong stuff for its time
Red-Barracuda11 October 2011
Interestingly, considering how tame it appears in direct comparison to Martin Scorsese's remake, this film was considered a particularly amoral and brutal affair back in 1962. It may be difficult for audiences now to understand this but if you watch the original Cape Fear and keep in mind its historical context it isn't really that surprising that it met with a howl of outrage. The central problem was the continual threat of sexual violence posed by the character Max Cady. This sadistic psycho constantly goads his nemesis Sam Bowden with the implied but very clear threat of rape directed at Bowden's wife and daughter. The latter is 12 years old. So it isn't too difficult to see how this caused a lot of consternation back on original release. The emphasis on this uncomfortable theme made the original Cape Fear a somewhat transgressive film. And when a film is transgressive in its depiction of social reality, history has shown that it usually finds itself in a bit of bother.

Unlike in Scorsese's remake, the Bowden family here are the epitome of normality. They are thoroughly idealised, with patriarch Sam Bowden given an unambiguous upstanding morality by Gregory Peck. This means that there are clear black and white moral certainties here, where the remake operated in shades of grey where the psychopath was something of a catalyst for the problems inherent in the troubled family unit. I guess the two movies show not only the shift in screen violence in the intervening years but also the more complex and ambiguous way that families were depicted too.

The original is certainly a very good thriller. Robert Mitchum is really the key screen presence here. He effectively plays a very transgressive character; essentially a rapist and paedophile. His Max Cady certainly carries a genuine threat, its a very good performance. Also of note is the excellent score by the extremely dependable Bernard Herrmann. It was more or less covered for the remake, so that tells you all you need to know about its timelessness. Herrmann proved himself with this, and the Psycho and Taxi Driver soundtracks, that he was a master at menacing film music. Finally, director J. Lee Thompson needs to be given a fair bit of credit too for putting together such a direct and gutsy thriller in the first place. I think both versions of Cape Fear work very well together, as they really come at the audience from quite different angles while essentially being the same basic narrative. As much as I respect Scorsese, I sometimes think that this older flick is the more consistently enjoyable film though.
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This is what film noir is supposed to be
ThreeGuysOneMovie7 September 2011
The Original Cape Fear, where to start with this classic noir film? First of all let me preface this review by stating , if you came here looking for a compare and contrast job between this and the (1991) Cape Fear with Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro, you have come to the wrong place. Now that I have that off my chest let us begin.

The plot consists of a southern lawyer Sam Bowden (Peck) being visited by a felon he helped put away eight years ago, Max Cady (Mitchum). Following the initial reintroduction, Cady begins to slowly and deliberately annoy and harass Bowden and his family. As the film progresses this harassment turns more and more dangerous as Cady first targets the family dog and then takes an interest in Bowden's young teenage Daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). We see a man of the law Bowden confronted with the limitations of that law despite his friendship with the police department.

This film is visually stunning shot in classic black and white with a haunting tension filled score that scares the bejesus out of you. You feel the growing desperation of Bowden as Cady skates at the edge of the law and forces Bowden to the other side of the law. Just how far is Bowden willing to compromise his principles to protect his family. You can't really help but put yourself in the same situation while watching the film and wondering what you would do.

The whole cast of this film is fabulous. Peck's portrayal of Bowden as the anit-Atticus Finch is great but not as great as Mitchum who steals the movie as the increasingly creepy and lecherous Max Cady. His portrayal is even more amazing when you consider what sensors would allow to be seen when this film was made. Mitchum imparts more meaning out of a leer and tip of his hat than many modern films can with crazy CGI effects. The supporting cast is rock solid as well, Martin Balsam is great as the Police Chief Mark Dutton, and Telly Savalas is outstanding as Private investigator Charles Sievers even if he does not have a lollypop.

The level of fear and uneasy sexual tension in this film will have you on the edge of the couch. I highly recommend seeing this film if you haven't in the past or revisiting it as it never gets stale. This is what great film noir is all about.
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Mitchum Magnificent As Menacing Max
seymourblack-127 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
J Lee Thompson's "Cape Fear" is an account of a straightforward battle between good and evil. Good is represented by Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who is both a respectable lawyer and a decent family man. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) on the other hand, is an evil, psychopathic rapist who, having spent eight years in prison comes to Bowden's neighbourhood to terrorise him and his family because Bowden had previously given testimony in the court case which led to Cady's incarceration.

Initially, it appears that Bowden is in a very strong position to counter the threat from Cady because he has a long established friendship with the local police chief, Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam). Dutton is sympathetic to Bowden's plight and comes up with some useful ideas for getting rid of Cady. These ideas are unsuccessful, however, because what Bowden and Dutton don't realise, is just how methodically Cady has been planning his revenge and how well he is able to anticipate what actions the police are likely to take. Being the honest, law abiding man that he is, Bowden makes every attempt to deal with Cady's threats by legal means but when none of them work, in desperation, he eventually takes a more unorthodox course of action which leads to him being threatened with being disbarred. Events come to a head and are ultimately resolved only after a long and hard physical battle between the two men.

An excellent script by James R Webb and some intelligent direction from J Lee Thompson combine to provide increasing pace and suspense as Cady moves from implied levels of intimidation, through psychological pressure all the way up to very serious physical threats. The tension and drama are also brilliantly enhanced by Bernard Herrmann's excellent score. Peck and Balsam are thoroughly convincing in their roles but are inevitably outshone by a truly exceptional performance by Robert Mitchum. His portrayal of a character who is a thoroughly debased, violent monster, is genuinely scary and a remarkable achievement considering the strict standards of censorship which prevailed at the time.
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Every crime/thriller fan should see this film at least once.
Bloom600030 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
J. Lee Thompson's dark, disturbing pulp crime classic caused a stir in 1962 when it was released in cinemas. Not so due to people getting killed (actually only one character is seen killed on screen) - murder was, and still is, a common theme in film since the silent days. But rather to the film's explicit (for that time) approach to issues such as rape, stalking and child abductions.

Samuel Bowdon is a middle aged, well-to-do lawyer who has a loving family, consisting of wife Peggy (Polly Bergan, who is stunning on the eyes) and teenage daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). His normal, quietly blissful life is disturbed by the presence of a man he helped send to prison for an aggressive rape act. Enter Max Cady (a very mean looking Robert Mitchum), with intense eyes and a uncontrollable gravitation to women. He had just served his term, but is still angry that he had lost eight years to prison. At first, Bowdon doesn't think Cady would do anything to his family ("He's just been released from prison, he doesn't want to go back!"). However, things turn for the worst when it becomes clear Cady IS stalking his family but the law is powerless to stop him and he hasn't DONE anything to the family.

Cady pushes Bowdon's buttons by killing his dog, threatening his daughter Nancy with sexual abuse and beating up a teenage drifter to provide a "sample" of his plans for Nancy. The family then move to the isolated, moth-ridden Cape Fear swamp hoping to get away from Cady but Cady catches on and traps them there and aims to pounce on his prey...

A fairly straightforward thriller, it does have its' drawbacks. Aside Mitchum's great performance, the other characters are very wooden. Bowdon's wife and daughter have very little to do in this film and just seem to be used here as bait to keep the film going. Polly Bergan almost ruined a perfectly tense scene when she is attacked by Mitchum on a houseboat. Her panting was so annoying to listen to, I had the mute button in handy.

And what's with the 'perfect good family' thing? Did the writer think, "Oh, hey, the baddie's gonna steal the show. We need to make the point that he really is bad so we'll make the family all good and perfect. The audience will really connect with them because they're good! Great idea!" ... and behold the most ridiciously, unrealistic 'perfect' family in movie history.

However, the film is backed up by a wonderful score, terrific cinematography and a tense build up to the climax at the end (though that's not saying very much...). Everyone should see this film at least once. Recommended!
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