Thursday, September 23, 2010

Non-Horror Horrifying Film: Cape Fear (1962)

I pulled my copy of Cape Fear off the shelf the other day just for something to watch and because I hadn't seen it in a while. Every time I watch this movie I can't help but think how awesome is it and I always have so much that goes through my mind about it and absolutely NO ONE to tell these awesome things to. But now I have you. Behold, I give you the awesomeness of Cape Fear. Yes, I use the word "awesome" a lot in every day life.

Plotty stuff: Lawyer Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) lives a happy little life with his wife and teenage daughter, until the criminal Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) comes into their lives. Sam was a witness against Cady in a trial that put Cady in jail for eight years, and now that he's out, he wants revenge against Sam taken by destroying his family.

The infamous egg scene.
Where this film succeeds is in it subtleties. Max Cady is a sexual predator whom Sam witnessed raping a young woman and his way of getting back at Sam is to threaten and eventually carry out sexual violence against his daughter and wife (although the innocent daughter is his main target). However, the word "rape" is NEVER said in the film. But the audience gets it. The whole feeling, and threat, underneath the entire movie is rape. Not saying it somehow makes the tension so much more palpable and Max Cady that much of a monster, and an enemy to truly fear.

Bob Mitchum as Max Cady gives us the best villain in film history, horror or otherwise, and that is no exaggeration. His Southern-boy charming voice hides the coldest heart and most calculated beast of a man. One reason his character works so well is because he plays it as completely unapologetic. He, and everyone else, knows what he is and he doesn't give a damn. Sam knows right from the start what Cady's plans are for his family and Cady delights in taunting and teasing him throughout the film, until their final showdown at Cape Fear. Someone who is that brutal and sadistic and yet still a human is so much scarier to me than any horror film monster, mutant, or other killer. Just listen to the speech that Cady gives about what he did to his wife, and you'll know what kind of sick bastard we're dealing with here.

The screengrab to the left shows Mitchum at his absolute SCARIEST. He's picked up a woman at a bar (who still leaves with him even after the police come for him for questioning) and they're in a motel room. I'm not sure what's happened before, if anything, but she's laying on the bed in a dark nightgown and Cady comes up to the end of the bed, bare chested, looking down at her. A look of concern on her face, and a subtle, yet completely angry and violent look on his. She leaps off the bed, but he grabs her arm and throws her back down, the doors slamming shut on the ensuing attack. The simple shot of Mitchum standing there looking at her, while balling one hand into a tight fist, is perhaps the creepiest and scariest any one has ever looked in a film. You see him doing that and all you can think is that that girl is pretty well fucked.

As for the Scorsese remake to this film, it's a pretty good movie, but I still prefer the Peck/Mitchum face-off. I used to think that the version that came out in 1991 was one of the only remakes that was just as good as, if not better, than the original. The more I watch the original, however, the less I think that. Same plot, but they are two totally different movies from different times. What's implied is always freakier than what is put in front of you, and this remake is simply too in-your-face and over-the-top. Bob DeNiro's Cady is cartoonish, and while he is still extremely violent and threatening, his 'tarded accent just makes you laugh.

Speaking of politically incorrect words, what the hell is wrong with Juliet Lewis in this movie? Honestly. Is she just a ditzy teenager or is it something else because she seems to be, well... a little slow. Jessica Lange acts like she's high all the time and speaks in a really breathy and therefore completely annoying voice. Nick Nolte is okay, but his Sam Bowden sometimes gets a little scary and violent himself - not the nice boy Gregory Peck established him to be in the original.

Speaking of the Peck-man, how 'bout showing a little love for this fantastic dude?

The best eyebrows in the biz.

Atticus Finch and now Sam Bowden! It was Peck's idea to make the movie Cape Fear, from a book by John MacDonald called The Executioners. And thank goodness for his insight, because this is one story that is timeless. Revenge and morality, and also a pick at the legal system.

Most citizens have a profound respect for the law and the governing body that runs it, but few need to use it for serious matters. Sam's problem is that his law can do nothing to stop the relentless Cady from coming after his family, for we cannot punish people for what we think they'll do or for what they might do. Cady is smart and has studied law in prison (as almost all criminals seem to do) and he knows just what he can and can't do to get him into trouble with Sam. Sam's frustration is obvious, as is the audience's, and it makes him bring his own morality into question when he hires a gang of men to beat up Cady. Now you're thinking that Sam is pretty much inviting Cady to retaliate just as hard, and even though you're (hopefully) not on Cady's side exactly, you can't help but think that Sam should have never tarnished his squeaky clean image like that. Not only was it a really bad idea, but it only put his family in even more danger by angering Cady.

A film I will never get tired of, with a villain who can rival any knife-wielding psycho, Cape Fear is one of my favorite movies of all time.

Oh yeah, the music is also bad ass.


  1. Great flick, one of my go-to classic thrillers also. Mitchum is the man, and I always kinda want him to smash Peck.

  2. i love the remake, but have never the original. you definitely convinced me to watch it.

  3. @The Mike - It IS fantastic, right? I don't know wanting Mitchum to beat Peck, though - he's the bad guy! :) He is completely awesome, though.

    @cynniegurl - I hope you do watch it and I hope you love it! Let me know what you think.

  4. omg still haven't seen this one, but hey: at least I did see the Simpsons episode "Cape Feare" :-)

  5. @Maynard - Not to sound pushy or anything but SEE IT, DAMMIT! See it now!

    I need to find that Simpsons episode; I keep seeing mentions of it.