Review: Cape Fear(1962)

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Cape Fear is a late film noir or early neo noir from 1962, brought to the screen by Gregory Peck. He brought the book The Executioners by pulp and noir great John D. MacDonald to the screen. He didn’t like the title, The Executioners, and from 1960’s marketing perspective, Peck thought films named after places did well at the box office. So he looked along the East Coast for a name and he came across Cape Fear. Peck’s company backed this film and it actually lost a lot of money on its release. The film was to violent and tackled subjects that movie goers didn’t want to see. Luckily when Martin Scorsese remade this film in 1991, Peck still owned the rights. He made a tidy sum on licencing of the film to Scorsese.

Honestly I put off watching this classic for years. After seeing the 1991 version I could not see how this one could compare. I mean, how could anybody be better then Robert De Niro and Scorsese?

I finally broke down and watched this classic and I’m glad I did! Directed by J. Lee Thompson I had low expectations. Thompson may not be Scorsese, but he did a damn good job.

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This story is a classic tale of a good man pushed to the brink by a bad man. Will the good man have to do illegal, evil things to rid himself of the bad man? Will good prevail over bad?

Gregory Peck plays lawyer, Sam Bowden. A upstanding man of the community with a beautiful wife and daughter. At first, I questioned the character being a lawyer. I thought he prosecuted or defended Max Cady, and that is why Cady hated him. He is actually an eye witness to a crime and his testimony put Cady in prison. So if Bowden is a witness, why does he have to be a lawyer? Well as the film progressed I understood why. Bowden takes the law very seriously, because that’s his job. If Bowden was in another profession, I think the story would have progressed differently.

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Cady is played by Robert Mitchum and is one of those performances everybody needs to see! Cady is an ex-con who just got out of prison for assaulting a young girl and was seen in the act by Bowden. If it wasn’t for Bowden, he would have got away with it, and not spent the last 8 years in prison. His life would not have been ruined and he is looking to get revenge. Cady uses his time in prison wisely, and studies law. He know just what he can say and do, according to the law and Bowden can’t do anything about it.

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The clash of good and evil starts with the law being the game. Look for Polly Bergen as Bowden’s wife and Martin Balsam as the Police Chief. My favorite small role in this film goes to Telly Savalas as the hardboiled P.I. Bowden hires. Savalas tried for the role of Cady but lost out to Mitchum and received this role instead.

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It has been years since I have seen the remake of this film, but after watching this I’m going to have to watch them back to back to see who played Cady better, De Niro or Mitchum. I remember De Niro being great in this, but Mitchum’s portrayal is legendary.  Some Sunday afternoon, I will need to watch these back to back and look at a film vs film on these two. Maybe I will read the book first and look at a book vs film vs film, now that would be interesting.

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This is a must see classic for all fans of film and especially those that are fans of noir. This is a very dark film from the early 1960’s and pushed into some new terrain for film in general.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Cape Fear(1962)

  1. Nice write-up of an overlooked film. We watched it recently. This was indeed well-done, not perfect but built tension effectively and certainly threatening. Mitchum was dead on as the causally threatening Cady, and he creeped the wife out big time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I found DeNiro’s version to be over the top to the point of being ridiculous. It’s around the time where his villains began to be caricatures of themselves…a DeNiro cliché.

    Like

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