If you haven’t seen it:
“Cape Fear” has got nothing to do with being scared of superheroes.
It is a well-paced and intelligent thriller with some great set pieces and some good performances. Fans of the 1991 Martin Scorsese remake (with Nick Nolte and Robert de Niro) will probably find the original interesting and entertaining, and those who have not seen the remake are likely to find the original exciting and surprising.
Fans of Robert Mitchum’s naked torso will probably rank this as their favourite movie of all time.
If you have seen it:
Scroll down past the trailer for more.
SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
After serving 8 years in prison for rape, Max Cady (Mitchum) tracks down the man who he blames for his downfall, Sam Bowden (Peck), who was a witness against him in his trial. Max behaves in a threatening way, and implies to Sam that he intends to have his revenge.
Worried for his family’s safety, Sam uses his contact in the police department to try to have Max rearrested. They try a number of legal means, but Max (who has used his time in prison to study law) knows his rights, and remains one step ahead of them at all times. When Sam discovers his dog has been poisoned, he arranges for the police to harass Max into leaving town, but this also fails.
Max’s behaviour continues to escalate. He sexually assaults a woman he meets in a bar, but she is so terrified that she will not testify against him. Next, Max menaces Sam’s teenage daughter Nancy, terrifying her, but again doing nothing that would actually get him arrested.
In desperation, Sam hires three thugs to beat Max up, but Max overpowers all three of them. He tells Sam he intends to go to the police and have him arrested.
Sam decides to set a trap. With the help of a private detective he has hired (Kojak), he makes it look as though he has left town, having hidden his wife and daughter away on a houseboat on on a river called CapeFear. In reality, Sam has not left town, the detective is trailing Max, and the houseboat is being guarded. They hope that they will catch Max when he makes his attack on the wife and daughter. Max nearly outsmarts them – he kills the man guarding the boat and releases it from its mooring, forcing Sam to come out of hiding.
At first it appears that Max is after Sam’s wife on the boat, but when Sam arrives there, he realises that he has left Nancy alone in a cabin on the riverbank, and that she is actually the true target. Sam races back and manages to get there just in time to save his daughter; he fights with Max and shoots him. The injured Max demands that Sam finish him off, but Sam tells Max he would rather see him rot in jail.
Trivia Trish Says:
- The role of Max Cady was first offered to Ernest Borgnine.
- For the role of Sam, Gregory Peck was a last minute replacement for Charlton Heston.
- Cape Fear was based on a novel by John D. MacDonald’s called The Executioners. In the novel, Cady was a soldier who had been court-martialed for the rape of a 14 year old girl.
- Many of the outdoor scenes were filmed in Savannah, Georgia.
- The hat was Mitchum’s idea.
- The hotel where Max assaults the woman was actually the same set as mother’s house in Psycho. Martin Balsam was in both films (he was the private detective in Psycho).
- When first released, the censors cut six minutes from the film (mainly assault scenes and some with Max staring at Nancy) angering the director. All cuts have now been restored to DVD versions.
- Telly Savalas went on to play Blofeld in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but it was his role as the eponymous Kojak, the bald lollipop-sucking detective that made him a household name.
Steve Sunday Says:
I was a teenager when the 1991 remake came out and I saw it on the big screen, and I loved it. I thought it was the most intense and exciting thriller I had ever seen. Recently though (on your behalf dear reader), I watched it again, and I have to say it was not nearly as good as I remember it. I don’t know if it is because I have changed, or the film has dated, or perhaps because I already knew the plot, but I found the intensity grated on me.
Perhaps the famous “Cape Feare” spoof in The Simpsons has affected my memory, making me think it was more fun than it actually was.
No, the 1991 version is quite a nasty movie – violence, gore, unsympathetic characters, and disorientating direction. Back in 1991 I loved that. But now, not so much.
So, what about the original version? Well, I watched that for the first time this week, and really enjoyed it. It’s tense, atmospheric, and generally pretty convincing, although there were a few plot holes. The one that baffled me the most was the idea that Cady would spend so much time going after Peggy on the boat only to abandon that idea and go for Nancy on the shore (who was left unguarded!).
A well-made film though. Robert Mitchum was pretty menacing, but I have a soft spot for Gregory Peck – I love to watch him, and he was in a lot of great movies. He certainly knew how to pick them.
Great to see Kojak again too (with hair!).
Top 10 Differences between the Original Cape Fear & the Remake
- De Niro’s Max Cady is much more metrosexual. Early on he brags about having “been a woman” and later on we see him cross-dressing.
- There was a lot more stepping on rakes in the Martin Scorsese version. No … wait … that was The Simpsons.
- In the remake the supporting characters are much more annoying.
- De Niro is chewing a lot in the remake: cigars, the scenery, young womens’ faces, …
- Juliette Lewis’s Danny is seduced by Cady. Lori Martin’s Nancy is chased through an empty school by an unseen stalker who is apparently wearing tap shoes.
- Kersek dies. Kojak lives.
- Peck’s Sam Bowden is a noble hero. Nolte’s is a philanderer with questionable ethics – he’s only really the good guy in comparison to Cady.
- Mitchum’s Cady is a cool sociopath of the Hannibal Lector variety. De Niro’s Cady is almost a Freddy/Jason figure – by the end of the movie he even looks like Freddy, all that is missing is the glove.
- The original is a noir-influenced thriller. The remake is a horror … or, some would say, a comedy.
- The remake is in colour, apart from the bits that go to negative images like 1980s’ pop videos, for no obvious reason. When it is in colour, a lot of that colour is red.
Chris the Critic says:
This is a superbly crafted thriller from the director of The Guns of Naverone. It moves along at a blistering pace until the final showdown at the bayou, when the director really slows the pace down, ratcheting up the tension. This had the 1962 audiences on the edges of their seats, hearts in mouths.
The whole cast perform admirably in this movie, but it is Robert Mitchum’s sinister and threatening performance as one of the great cinema villains that really stands out. He exudes sexual menace, and his performance influenced many cinema psycho stalkers over the following decades – you can see his influence in movies like Silence of the Lambs, Fatal Attraction, and American Psycho.
Main Cast and Crew:
Gregory Peck as Sam Bowden
Robert Mitchum as Max Cady
Polly Bergen as Peggy Bowden
Lori Martin as Nancy Bowden
Martin Balsam as Police Chief Mark Dutton
Jack Kruschen as Attorney Dave Grafton
Telly Savalas as Private Detective Charles Sievers
Director – J. Lee Thompson