The original Cape Fear is a legendary film. Even if you haven’t seen it, it has been immortalised in other ways. You might be aware of the remake that Martin Scorcese directed back in 1991, in which he cast Robert De Niro as leading villain, and technically the star of the show, Max Cady. Bernard Hermann’s opening theme has been heard more often than people might realise. Anybody who has ever watched The Simpsons will probably know Sideshow Bob. Sideshow Bob’s theme song is the theme from this film. On top of this, 1 of the best written Simpsons episodes (and the best Sideshow Bob episode) is a parody of this film. Literally, it has had a phenomenal impact.
Set in the state of Georgia, USA, Sam Bowden (played by Gregory Peck), a lawyer, has just finished work and gets into his car. Just before he could start his car, a hand reaches in and grabs the keys. In one swoop, Bowden receives an unwelcome hello from a man by the name of Max Cady (Played by Robert Mitchum). a convict who had just been released from Prison, 8 years after Bowden caught him in the middle of a crime, and testified against him in court. From here, Cady would make Bowden’s life a living hell, as well as for his wife Peggy (Played by Polly Bergen) and his daughter Nancy (played by Lori Martin).
This is 1 of the best psychological thrillers ever made, and easily 1 of the best that wasn’t directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Within context it has to be considered that in the same year, Gregory Peck also starred as Atticus Finch, the Lawyer defending a black man at an all-white trial in the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird. So in an odd way, it felt like Atticus Finch was being victimised, and it’s Atticus Finch who might eventually not hold back his punches and go crazy with anger. At the same time, Robert Mitchum had played a character by the name of Reverend Harry Powell a few years before, in the legendary thriller Night Of The Hunter…Harry Powell, and Max Cady, are the 2 film characters that made me realise, nobody played “The Big Bad Wolf” quite like Robert Mitchum, even today.
While De Niro’s interpretation of Cady was scary, he was scary for different reasons. De Niro’s version looked like a bad man before you even knew his story, much like how Jack Nicholson already looked crazy before his character goes crazy in The Shining. Mitchum’s version however, is a lot more unassuming. If you knew nothing about him, even children could walk past without fear because he looked like somebody’s Uncle. But because you’re aware that this 6 foot 1 inch man who’s well-built for being steroid-free and in his mid 40s, is a murderer, a stalker, a blackmailer, a rapist and a pedophile. All of a sudden, he is 1 of the most intimidating and terrifying men to appear on screen. On top of this, he studied law in prison, qualifying him for playing mind games with Bowden. He haunts Bowden and his family, without even doing anything (or seemingly doing nothing). Everything seems to point to him. But nothing can be proven. Bowden knows he’s in danger, like watching someone sharpening a butcher knife with murder on the brain and everybody else saying he’s going to use it on a cow. But his attempts to either put Cady back in prison or “accidentally away” start to make him look like the bad guy. Someone who bent the law to his own advantage.
I loved this film and practically everything about it. Is it as scary as modern horror? Probably not, unless jump scares are what horror has become. It is a very cerebral film, 1 in which your main antagonist can get inside your head somehow. Excellent psychology and build-up, and still a good 1 to watch in the dark I would say. Excellent acting, excellent characters, excellent music and camera work, and an awesome story. I’ll do a review sometime of the 1991 remake, but until then, here is my verdict:
Overall: ***** out of 5.