A Spur of the Moment Shame: Cape Fear

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I was fortunate to have had a day off today and took a moment to watch a movie on demand. I was searching for something old to watch and noticed that both versions of the thriller Cape Fear were on demand for free. I then realized that I had never seen either movie and so I figured this would be a great opportunity to add to my list. I then sat down and prepared myself to view the original 1962 version of the movie.

Based on the novel The Executioners by John D. McDonald, the film is about a lawyer Sam Bowden played by Gregory Peck, and his psychological standoff with criminal Max Cady, played by Robert Mitchum.

First I must say, I loved Peck’s performance in this. Perhaps even more than his Oscar winning role in To Kill A Mockingbird. He doesn’t come across as the all-out “good guy.” From the very beginning he is finding out out how to get Cady out of his life. He tries talking with his police chief friend portrayed by Martin Balsam (A nice little get-together of Hitchcock alum). He tries to have him investigated with a private eye (Telly Savalas). He hires thugs to beat him up and then resolves to kill him. I loved that the film did not have its main protagonist fall to old school hero tactics. This must have been a sign that the times were changing as Bowden does everything he can both within the law and outside of it to protect his family.

I also enjoyed Robet Mitchum as Max Cady. He presented to me one of the most despicable villains I have seen in a movie. That is unless when I see Scorsese’s version and De Niro’s take I find superior. I felt he was the worst kind of monster, one that knew the law and knew how to find a loophole to avoid trouble. Mitchum’s performance brings to mind Robert Walker as Bruno in Strangers on a Train. You could just sense the brutality he was capable of and the fear he instilled. It just seemed that you could never escape him.

As a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, this movie reminded me of him in so many ways. The biggest thing I can think of is the approach to the subject of rape. Cady is a rapist, although you do not hear that word directly, it is clear the type of predator he is. And he is not above the assault of a child either. Perhaps it was the film censors but this scenarios of this nature harken back to Psycho and the sexuality that was present in that film.

A tense and taut thriller, I was on the edge of my seat throughout. Alright that’s my clichéd film review speak for the day. But all in all I really enjoyed this. I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner and I can’t wait to watch the 1991 version.

Side note: Look out soon for my main shame for March, the Sci-Fi campy romp Barbarella

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