Small-town lawyer Sam Bowden's life becomes torturous when Max Cady re-enters his life. Cady went to jail for 8 years after Bowden testified that Cady attacked a young woman. Now that Cady has been released, he begins to terrorize Bowden and his family, particularly targeting Bowden's daughter, Nancy. Initially, Cady uses his newfound knowledge of the law (learned in prison) to annoy the Bowdens, then poisons the family dog... Who's next ?
Gregory Peck ... Sam Bowden
Robert Mitchum ... Max Cady
Polly Bergen ... Peggy Bowden
Lori Martin ... Nancy Bowden
Martin Balsam ... Police Chief Mark Dutton
Jack Kruschen ... Attorney Dave Grafton
Telly Savalas ... Private Detective Charles Sievers
Barrie Chase ... Diane Taylor
Paul Comi ... George Garner
John McKee ... Officer Marconi
Page Slattery ... Deputy Kersek
Ward Ramsey ... Officer Brown
Edward Platt ... Judge
Will Wright ... Dr. Pearsall
Joan Staley ... Waitress
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Codecs: DivX 3 / MP3
One perverse individual can exploit his freedom by using it to encroach on someone else's. That is the problem with a society which cherishes personal liberty. The community has the dilemma of deciding whose freedom it ought to protect. At what point should the state intervene?
Today, modern democracies have anti-harrassment laws which carry criminal penalties, and there is also the civil remedy of an injunction with power of arrest, but back in the early 1960's a man who chose to make a nuisance of himself enjoyed wide latitude. It was difficult for the law to step in without infringing his civil and constitutional rights.
Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) is a small-town attorney in the south-eastern United States. He has a lovely family and a nice home, and is well thought of by neighbours and colleagues alike. This American idyll is destroyed when a newly-released convict shows up, intent on harrassing Bowden. Some years back, the lawyer had appeared as a witness at this man's trial, and the convict bears an irrational grudge.
Max Cady is one of the cinema's great villains. Mitchum is irresistible as the heavy-eyed smart alec seething with sexual energy. Cady's sharp but warped intelligence is disturbing to behold (the way he obtains Bowden's vacation address is chillingly impressive). He begins to show up wherever Bowden goes, an ominous sarcastic presence to which no objection can be made, so long as he stays within the law. Cady's salient traits are placed before us right from the start of the film. He is completely callous (ignoring the girl who drops her books on the stairs) and a nasty sexual predator (picking up the waitress in the bowling alley).
"Cape Fear" is a taut, absorbing thriller. Mitchum's charisma fills the screen, and the dark eerie look (by Director of Photography Sam Leavitt) compounds the feeling of menace. The incidental music is excellent.
However, the film has some implausible ingredients. Why would a woman who has just been sexually degraded, and is clearly traumatised, be handed over by the police to the care of a private eye? (Charlie Sievers the gumshoe is played by Telly Savalas - with hair!) Would a criminal attorney really - no matter what the provocation - hire waterfront thugs to beat up a stalker? How come Sam's gun is still effective after being immersed in the river? Why doesn't Nancy's phone work? It is preposterous to suggest that Cady would waste time on the elaborate feint towards Peggy instead of pursuing his real victim. And how can it be that Cady can defeat three ruffians single-handed, overwhelm a police bodyguard with ease, yet fail to defeat Sam, even when armed with a stick?
Verdict - Allowing for the improbabilities, this is a well-made thriller with a magnificent performance by Mitchum.
Martin Scorsese's version of "Cape Fear" had its moments, but overall was something of a chaotic picture. Its "satire" (or lack thereof) didn't really have a point, and its over-the-top visuals seemed to be compensating for a lack of content. It seemed less like Scorsese and more like DePalma.
Thompson's original is better - more scary, more thrilling, more diabolical and realistic. Whereas De Niro's scenery-chewing performance in the remake was almost laughable, Robert Mitchum's spine-tingling turn here as Max Cady is one of the great human movie monsters - he's a demon at spirit, no in physicality.
He seeks revenge on Gregory Peck and his family after Peck puts him away in jail for a few years.
Scorsese's version was more updated and in that sense its general themes were more believable - Cady's psyche was more exposed, his violence exploitative - and the romance between Cady and Sam Bowden's daughter in the original is nonexistent. In fact, the extent of his harm towards her is when he chases her around an empty school.
Still, this is a better version of the movie because it has more strengths than the remake. Visually it's not as impressive but it makes more of an impact as a thriller.
So acclaimed was Robert Mitchum's performance as the amoral, animalistic Max Cady it probably escapes most people's attention that Cape Fear was produced by co-star Gregory Peck.
One film before was the one that united star Gregory Peck with director J. Lee Thompson. That would be The Guns of Navarone which was both a critical and box office success. Thompson and Peck enjoyed working with each other and decided the next film would be light years from The Guns of Navarone.
Both Peck and Thompson agreed that this story about a homicidal ex-convict terrorizing a man who was a witness against him and his family needed a star of equal stature for the part of the convict as well as the good citizen who Peck was playing. Mitchum was contacted and agreed.
I've always felt that it always showed what a class act Gregory Peck was in that even though it was his film and Mitchum got the acclaim for the film, Peck never betrayed one hint of jealousy about the plaudits Mitchum got.
Max Cady was about as nasty a creature as had ever been shown on screen up to that time. The Production Code was breaking down and Thompson and Peck took great advantage of that. Today it would be nothing, but when Cady smeared that egg matter over Polly Bergen's chest it was considered risqué at the time.
Polly Bergen was Gregory Peck's wife and Lori Martin his daughter in the film. Other performances of note are of Telly Savalas as a private detective, Martin Balsam as the town police chief, and Jack Kruschen as Cady's lawyer, one bottom feeding shyster. In the remake of Cape Fear which had Nick Nolte as Sam Bowen, Peck's part, and Robert DeNiro as Cady, Both Mitchum and Peck agreed to play some of the minor parts. This time Mitchum was in Balsam's old part as the police chief and Gregory Peck whose most famous role was as Atticus Finch, played the bottom feeder. After that remake you could definitely say Peck played the legal profession at both ends.
The story of Cape Fear is about an upright moral man, not unlike Atticus Finch who has to get down and dirty in order to deal with a totally amoral man who lives by no rules. Kind of like what the western world has to do in dealing with terrorists of all shapes and sizes. Their confrontation on the Cape Fear River where Peck has to catch Mitchum red handed in order to bring him to justice or kill him is one for cinema history.
* Polly Bergen suffered minor bruises in a scene where her character struggles with Robert Mitchum's character. He was supposed to drag her through various doors on the set, but a crewmember mistakenly left all those doors locked, so that when Mitchum forced Bergen through the doors, she was actually being used as a ram to push them open.
* J. Lee Thompson originally wanted Hayley Mills to play Nancy Bowden, but Mills couldn't because she was contracted to Walt Disney. Thompson still wishes that he had Hayley Mills play Nancy.
* Gregory Peck was originally approached to play the role of Max Cady , but he said he did not want to play the villain and instead asked for (and received) the role of the hero, Sam Bowden.
* According to Robert Mitchum, during the filming of the final fight scene between he and Gregory Peck, Peck once accidentally punched him for real. Mitchum, knowing that Peck didn't mean to and ever the professional, refused to break character and continued filming the scene. However, upon entering his trailer, Mitchum said he "literally collapsed" due to the impact of the punch and said that he felt it for days after wards. According to Mitchum: "I don't feel sorry for anyone dumb enough who picks a fight with him (Peck)."
* The hotel where Mitchum takes Barrie Chase is "mother's house" from Psycho (1960), where Martin Balsam met his demise two years earlier.
* The trailer and radio spots are narrated by Universal regular, Jeff Morrow.
* Director J. Lee Thompson complained at the time that UK censor John Trevelyan had ruined the film by making extensive cuts, and the number of edits suggested ranged from 60 to over 100. Trevelyan later replied that he had made only 15 cuts, totalling around 6 minutes, with edits made to the beating of Diane Taylor and to shots of Mitchum gazing at Nancy Bowden in her swimsuit. All later UK video releases restored the cinema cuts.
* Gregory Peck, who produced the film, didn't like the original novel's title "The Executioners". When thinking of a new title, he decided that movies named after places tended to be very successful, so he looked at a map of the U.S. until he happened upon Cape Fear in Florida.