Cape Fear is a bonafide classic and unlike most films which are deemed “classics” also had a remake which is equally excellent and in some regards is the better film. The fact the remake was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte certainly didn’t hurt much either. The remake is a deliberately more stylized film as you would expect from Scorsese which draws as much on Hitchcock’s oeuvre as it does on the original film from 1962.
The original film has similarly heavy weight actors in Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck in the lead roles who just feed off each other. Mitchum is the villainous Max Cady who has just got out of prison after 8 years for rape. Peck’s Sam Bowden was partly behind his incarceration because he testified again Cady and stopped the rape. Cady arrives in Bowden’s town and begins to stalk Bowden and his family and has eyes on Bowden’s daughter.
Given the film was made in 1962, the sexual predator aspect of the film is played down but still it’s obvious what he would with Bowden’s daughter if he had the chance. The director was J. Lee Thompson who was a fairly unremarkable director who basically apes Hitchcock throughout even down to hiring Bernard Herrmann as the composer. Herrmann’s score was even reused for Scorsese’s remake as well. However Thompson does has enough style which he ripped off to Hitchcock to make it a classic.
Mitchum who is one of those actors even in the worst film is exceptional. He basically updates his menacing character in the utter masterwork The Night of the Hunter to an even menacing character. Peck who also portrayed somebody honorable is fantastic as well. Telly Savalas who of course would achieve great fame as Kojak appears as the detective Bowden hires.
Cape Fear may be nearing its 60th anniversity since it’s debut in 1962 but it hasn’t lost any of its power. The two performances from the leads remain some of the best work either of them did in their long and distinguished careers. The photography by Sam Leavitt is exceptional and Herrmann’s score was so good they used it twice! Weirdly enough the Cape Fear River isn’t featured at all in the source novel The Executioners by John D. MacDonald. The disc is barebones sadly and is missing the making of from the old Universal DVD.