Film Review: Cape Fear (1962)

Also known as: The Executioners (working title)
Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Miami premiere)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: James R. Webb
Based on: The Executioners by John D. MacDonald
Music by: Bernard Hermann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Telly Savalas

Melville Productions, Talbot Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“I got somethin’ planned for your wife and kid that they ain’t nevah gonna forget. They ain’t nevah gonna forget it… and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!” – Max Cady

I had to rectify a grave injustice that I have committed against myself for decades. That injustice was never seeing the original version of Cape Fear. Strangely, I love both Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, plus this has Telly Savalas in it. That alone should have had me on board for this years ago but alas, I didn’t see this wonderful picture until 2018. In my defense, if I had already seen every classic, I wouldn’t be able to be wowed by them the first time.

This is, far and away, better than the remake done by Martin Scorsese and I am a big fan of that picture. That version got in my head when I was a young teen and it never really released its grip. I do need to go back and watch that one too, in the near future.

Anyway, Robert Mitchum is one of the most charismatic actors to ever grace the screen. When Mitchum decides to delve into darker roles though, the audience is in for a treat. Well, if they consider terror as a treat. He’s just so damn good playing such an evil bastard. Between this movie and The Night of the Hunter, he really exists on an evil level in a way that other actors don’t. If you want to see a master of their craft at work, this is a prime example of Robert Mitchum transcending his craft and having a presence that reaches through the screen and haunts your imagination.

Gregory Peck was perfection as the other side of this coin. He represents good and is a solid moral character that believes in law and justice. He is pushed to his limit and almost crosses over to the dark side a few times but ultimately, he keeps his soul clean and pure. If this was made in modern times, the ending would have looked like an obvious attempt at leaving things open for a sequel. But in 1962, goodness prevails without evil being mortally wiped out. Plus, in 2018, they would have had the hero blast a dozen holes into the bad guy while the audience cheered.

This is just a classic tale of good versus evil and that’s why it works so well. There are no bones about how terrible of a person Mitchum’s Max Cady is and the same can be said about the goodness of Peck’s Sam Bowden.

What was surprising about this, at least for me, is that a motion picture from 1962 could cross the lines that this one did. There were the threats of rape and pedophilia, which are disturbing now but imagine seeing this unfold through the eyes of someone in 1962 when film’s were censored by the morality police and the rating system wouldn’t exist for another 6 years.

Cape Fear is near perfect as a straight up thriller. It gives you an immediate sense of danger and dread and slowly simmers for 90 minutes before its nerve wracking climax.

Every actor in this was superb.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: PsychoThe Night of the Hunter and the 1991 Cape Fear remake.

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