Cape Fear (1962) – J. Lee Thompson

The classic Robert Mitchum/Gregory Peck thriller is the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Point Blank.

I’m ashamed to admit I had never seen the original before now, I’d seen the remake with Nolte and De Niro, but not this one. So going in, I knew the basic storyline, lawyer Sam Bowden’s (Peck) family is stalked by Sam Cady (Mitchum) who Bowden helped send to prison for eight years with testimony he delivered in court.

With Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score (which Elmer Bernstein adapted for the 1991 remake) the film remains unnerving, and this may be one of Mitchum’s most frightening performances, alongside his turn as Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter.

To call him terrifying doesn’t do it justice, he’s cold, calculating, vicious, and sexist, and it all moves beneath the surface of Mitchum’s performance, in the way he gives a look or delivers a line.

Cady begins a drawn out torturous game with Bowden’s family. Sam’s wife, Peggy (Polly Bowden) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin) both find themselves targeted by Cady as he works to exact his revenge.

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Predatory Cady stays just within the confines of the law, making it difficult for Bowden to find a legal way to stop him. and when things final come to a head, it’s way to late to reach the police.

In attempt to get away, and elude Cady, the Bowdens head out on their boat, and hope that everything will settle down while they are away. But Cady follows them, targeting each of them one at a time. The film races to an inescapable climax and confrontation, when Bowden tempts Cady to follow them, so that Bowden can save his family once and for all from the vicious ex-con.

Set on a houseboat the climax of this cat and mouse thriller is tense, vicious, incredibly unnerving (thanks to Mitchum’s performance) and even to this day, a nail-biter. Seeing Cady push Peck’s Bowden to the point of violence, to the point of violating the very law he’s sworn to uphold, that’s something. Powerhouse definitely defines this film, and the dark themes that layer it; Cady’s pursuit of Bowden’s young daughter is incredibly upsetting, it also allows the viewers to empathise with Bowden and his intention to put Cady down and I love that ending!

This is a brilliantly made film, Thompson spoke of how he wanted it to be his nod to Hitchcock, and there is definitely a feeling of his touch to the film; a lot of the violence is implied and not seen, there are great shots, and a fantastic score.

Mitchum is wonderfully menacing, and consequently overshadows everyone else in the film. This is his show, we’re just along for the ride. And that is saying something when you include some stellar stars like Peck, Martin Balsam and Telly Savalas.

This one is well worth the watch if you’ve never seen it, or maybe it’s time to watch it again…

Cady reptilian Cape Fear 1961

 

 

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