CAPE FEAR (1962) 

Gregory Peck
Robert Mitchum
Polly Bergen
Lori Martin
Martin Balsam
Jack Kruschen
Telly Savalas
Barrie Chase
Paul Comi
John McKee

J. Lee Thompson



Time: 105 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Crime/Thriller/Drama

Due to the utterly contemptible and wicked performance of Robert Mitchum, this film is a pulp thriller to be reckoned with. It's easy to understand why Scorsese and De Niro wanted to remake this film, but even their considerable effort doesn't hold a candle to the original. De Niro goes too far, too fast in his portrayal of ex-con Max Cady. Mitchum starts nice and slow, oozing sweet malice as he turns the screws on Peck, who plays Sam Bowden, the lawyer who got him sent up the river. Cady had a nice, long stretch to dream up his payback and he's going to take his time, torturing Bowden and his family with fear before he exacts his retribution. For his part, what begins as a somewhat typical role for Peck – upstanding, intelligent, level-headed lawyer – ends with him proving that lawyers can be just as vicious outside of the courtroom. Peck's inherent goodness keeps the audience on Bowden's side, despite the unlawful actions his character is forced to take to protect not only his own life, but those of his wife (Bergen) and daughter (Martin) as well.

The trouble with Cady is that he's not just some common criminal. He spent his prison term studying the law, learning exactly what he could get away with. Since Cady's never caught red-handed doing any of the vicious things Bowden knows he's doing, Bowden has no legal recourse. In fact, Cady is so smart he makes himself look like the victim of Bowden's paranoia. Bowden uses his connections with the local police chief (Balsam) to try to convince Cady to leave town, but there's not much the police can do, if Cady tows the line. The chief believes Bowden's claims that Cady is out to kill him, but until he does and they can prove it, their hands are tied. They almost catch a break when Cady takes his anger and frustration out on a local woman (Taylor) – who clearly has bad taste in men – but she's so frightened she leaves town as fast as her little bruised legs will carry her.

"I'm gonna' do something to you and your family that you ain't neva' gonna' forget."

With his reputation ruined and his family's future on the line, Bowden is forced to take the law into his own hands. He' not the sort of man who could kill someone, even a man like Cady, in cold blood, but if it happened to be self-defense, that he could live with. With the help of a private detective, who's monitoring Cady's every move, and one of the sheriff's most trusted men, Bowden sets a plan in place that will assure Cady's capture or death. The finale is fraught with tension, as his wife and daughter, who are being used as bait, wait on an isolated house boat for this nightmare to be over. They know their big, strong man is out in the darkness (with backup) watching over them, but we are all left wondering...will he be enough? Let's just say, that though the outcome is never in any doubt, the fight to the finish doesn't pull any punches. They may come out alive, but this is an experience no one's ever going to forget.

While this may not be the most original story ever – ex-con looking for payback – it is intelligently written, superbly acted and brilliantly edited. There's not a scene out of place, not a moment that's not designed to pull the noose even tighter around our heroes. Mitchum is stunning in his brutal contempt for humanity. Cady is sly and charming, using violence to take what he believes he deserves. It's a performance you won't soon forget and one that will make you think twice about the nature of men. Peck has the less flashy role, but he gets to show a more physical side along with his usual cool intelligence and righteous determination. When push comes to shove, he proves he's more than man enough to fight evil head on. The ladies don't have much to do but look scared, but they make their presence felt, especially Martin and Chase. Your heart will break when you see the terror on Martin's face and the resignation on Chase's when they each get a taste of Cady's brand of justice. This is the type of film that rarely goes well, that the wrong tone, wrong cast and poor plotting make into mediocre melodrama. However, in the case of this flick, a subtle and strong hand behind the camera, along with some pretty great actors, creates a pulp masterpiece that takes you on a thrill ride you pray never happens to you.

home | reviews | actors | actresses | film heaven | all reviews