johnlink ranks CAPE FEAR (1962)

So I sat down and watched the CAPE FEAR remake, wrote the article, looked at the clock and decided that I had some time to watch the original too. I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched an original and a remake in the same day, let alone in the opposite order.

Cape Fear-22

I watched CAPE FEAR (1962) on 8.6.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) is an honest lawyer and a good man. He once witnessed a bad dude, Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), beating up a girl. So Bowden testified against Cady, who went to jail for eight years. Cady is out, as the movie starts, and he wants to make Bowden feel his pain of loss.

Bowden has a wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen), and a daughter, Nancy (Lori Martin), whom Cady also wants to see suffer. He takes a particular interest in the young girl. Meanwhile, Bowden leans on his police chief friend, Dutton (Martin Balsam) to make Cady’s life hell. Cady is a smart guy, though, and does nothing which is technically outside of the law (at least nothing can be detected).

This is a surprisingly sinister movie for the early 1960s. Certainly more scary than the horror movies of the time, this also has as much of the macabre as some of the more darkly toned Hitchcock films (indeed, frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann provides the film’s score). Director J. Lee Thompson utilizes plenty of film noir shadowing to punctuate the darkness of this post-noir film. Like the best noir films, this is a movie which beats around the bush when it comes to subjects like rape (refusing to use the word, even), yet which clearly alludes to such a thing taking place in the moments we don’t see.


Equally frightening is Cady’s pursuing of Nancy. While her age is never explicitly given, she appears to be in the 13 or 14 range. She is clearly adolescent. This would be changed dramatically in Martin Scorsese’s remake. In his film, the 15-year-old daughter feels much older, and is trying to appear to be older to Cady. In the 1962 film, Nancy is very much a young girl who has no chance with Cady. His entire pursuit of her is hard to watch.

There is a story that Meachum claimed to have acted Peck off the screen. While Meachum does well here, he has since been overshadowed by Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the character. Peck, on the other hand, is remarkably steady and regal in this. When he has a late scene at a bar with Meachum, Peck looks him over like they don’t even belong in the same room. The disgust Peck subtly portrays as Cady tells the story about seeing his wife after getting released from prison is a lesson in restraint.


There are more pop-off-the-screen moments in this film than you might expect. Cady attacking a girl is quietly horrifying. Bowden’s wife calling the cops on her husband giver her validity. Cay cracking an egg is a great moment of cinema. The subsequent attack, which suggests rape, would sound like rape if you shut the image off. The way Bergen plays that scene is heartbreaking.

It’s hard to say which CAPE FEAR I prefer. There are strengths of each. Both are absolutely must-see movies. I think I prefer the simplistic tone of the original better, though Scorsese is going for something different. Thompson’s 1962 film is a film from the perspective of the hero, it takes on his aesthetic. The energy of the 1991 remake pulls from the villain. It has Cady’s eccentricities,his violence, his danger, his lack of a happy ending.

Both are films which must be seen. While it is too bad that it took me so long to see them, I am fortunate to have watched them both on the same day.




FINAL SCORE: 8.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on August 7, 2014.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks CAPE FEAR (1962)”

  1. Thanks. I think the original far superior to the remake with Mitchum effortlessly out acting De Niro. Regards Thom.

    • Thanks for reading! I think De Niro gave the movie what was asked, which is a far different performance than Mitchum’s. With Mitchum there was a quiet burn and it was easy to forget there was an actor there. I liked both movies and both actors made their movie better. But that’s just my opinion 🙂

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