Cape Fear (1962 film)
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Cape Fear movie poster
|Directed by||J. Lee Thompson|
|Produced by||Sy Bartlett|
|Screenplay by||James R. Webb|
|Based on||The Executioners
by John D. MacDonald
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann|
|Editing by||George Tomasini|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||105 minutes|
Cape Fear is a 1962 American psychological thriller film starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Martin Balsam and Polly Bergen. It was adapted by James R. Webb from the novel The Executioners by John D. MacDonald. It was directed by J. Lee Thompson, and released on April 12, 1962. The movie concerns an attorney whose family is stalked by a criminal he helped to send to jail.
After spending eight years in prison for rape, Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) is released. He promptly tracks down Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a Georgia lawyer whom he holds personally responsible for his conviction because Sam interrupted his attack and also testified. Cady begins to stalk and subtly threaten Bowden's family. He kills the Bowden family dog, though Sam cannot prove this. A friend of Bowden's, police chief Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam), attempts to intervene on his behalf, but he cannot prove Cady guilty of any crime.
Bowden hires Charlie Sievers (Telly Savalas), a private detective. Cady brutally attacks a young, promiscuous woman named Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase) when she brings him home, but neither the private eye nor Bowden can persuade her to testify. Bowden hires three thugs to beat up Cady and persuade him to leave town, but the plan backfires when Cady gets the better of all three. Cady's lawyer vows to have Bowden disbarred.
Afraid for his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and 14-year-old daughter Nancy (Lori Martin), Bowden takes them to their houseboat in Cape Fear. In an attempt to trick Cady, Bowden makes it seem as though he has gone to a completely different location. He fully expects Cady to follow his wife and daughter, and he plans on killing Cady to end the battle. He and a local deputy hide nearby, but Cady realizes the deputy is there and kills him. Eluding Bowden, Cady first attacks Mrs. Bowden on the boat, causing Bowden to go to her rescue. Meanwhile, Cady swims back to shore to attack the daughter. Bowden realizes what has happened and also swims back.
It leads to a final violent fight on the riverbank between the two men. Bowden overpowers Cady but decides not to kill him, preferring to let him spend the rest of his life in jail, because killing Cady would be the "easy way out." The film ends with the Bowden family sitting together on a boat the next morning.
- Gregory Peck as Sam Bowden
- Robert Mitchum as Max Cady
- Polly Bergen as Peggy Bowden
- Lori Martin as Nancy Bowden
- Martin Balsam as Mark Dutton
- Jack Kruschen as Dave Grafton
- Telly Savalas as Charlie Sievers
- Barrie Chase as Diane Taylor
- Paul Comi as George Garner
Almost everyone in Hollywood wanted a role in the film. Rod Steiger wanted to play Max Cady, but he backed off when he heard Mitchum was considering the role. Telly Savalas was screentested for the role but later played private eye Charlie Sievers.
Charlton Heston, Jack Palance, John Wayne, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson were all considered for the role of the attorney: Sam Bowden. Peck was a last-minute replacement to Heston, who was originally cast.
Thompson had always envisioned the film in black and white prior to production. Being an Alfred Hitchcock fan, he wanted to have Hitchcockian elements in the film, such as unusual lighting angles, an eerie musical score, closeups and subtle hints rather than graphic depictions of the violence that Cady has in mind for the family.
The outdoor scenes were filmed on location in Savannah, Georgia, Stockton, California and in the Universal Studios Backlot at Universal City, California. The indoor scenes were done at Universal Studios Soundstage. Mitchum had a real-life aversion to Savannah, where as a teenager, he had been charged with vagrancy and put on a chain gang. This resulted in a number of the outdoor scenes being shot at Ladd's Marina in Stockton, California, including the culminating conflict on the houseboat at the end of the movie.
This scene where Mitchum attacks Polly Bergen's character on the houseboat was almost completely improvised. Before the scene was filmed, Thompson suddenly told a crew member: "Bring me a dish of eggs!" Mitchum rubbing the eggs on Bergen was not scripted and Bergen's reactions were real. She also suffered back injuries from being knocked around so much. She felt the impact of the "attack" for days.
In the source novel The Executioners by John D. MacDonald, Cady was a soldier court-martialed and convicted on then Lieutenant Bowden's testimony for the brutal rape of a 14-year-old girl. Again, the censors stepped in, citing that the word "rape" not appear and that having Cady as a soldier reflected adversely on U.S. military personnel.
Although the word "rape" was entirely removed from the script before shooting, the film still enraged the censors, who were worried that "there was a continuous threat of sexual assault on a child." In order to be accepted, British censors required extensive editing and deleting of specific scenes. After making around 6 minutes of cuts, it still nearly garnered an X rating (a British X rating meaning at the time; "Suitable for those aged 16 and older", not necessarily anything to do with pornographic content).
Home media 
Cape Fear was first made available on VHS on March 1, 1992. It was later re-released on VHS as well as DVD on September 18, 2001. Currently, the film is set to be released onto Blu-ray on January 8, 2013. It will contain production photos as well as a "making-of" featurette.
Critical response 
Upon its release, the film received positive but cautious feedback from critics due to the film's content. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 95 percent of 20 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.6 out of 10.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised the "tough, tight script" as well as the film's "steady and starkly sinister style." He went on to conclude his review by saying that "this is really one of those shockers that provokes disgust and regret." The entertainment-trade magazine Variety reviewed the film as "competent and visually polished", while commenting on Mitchum's performance as a "menacing omnipresence."
In April 2007, Newsweek selected Robert Mitchum's portrayal of Max Cady as one of the ten best villains in cinema history. Cady also ranks number 28 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 50 movie villains of all time. Specifically, the scene where Cady attacks Sam's family was ranked #36 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments in 2004.
- p.283 Chibnall, Steve J. Lee Thompson Manchester University Press, 2000
- Seller, Ryan (12 October 2012). "Cape Fear (1962) Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- "Cape Fear – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
- Crowther, Bosley (19 April 1962). "Screen: Pitiless Shocker:Mitchum Stalks Peck in 'Cape Fear'". New York Times. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- "Cape Fear". Variety. 1962. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS". America Film Institute. 4 June 2003. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments". Bravo.tv.com. Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- "Best trial movies" at Internet Movie Database.
Further reading 
- Bergman, Paul; Asimow, Michael. (2006) Reel justice: the courtroom goes to the movies (Kansas City : Andrews and McMeel). ISBN 0-7407-5460-2; ISBN 978-0-7407-5460-9; ISBN 0-8362-1035-2; ISBN 978-0-8362-1035-4.
- Machura, Stefan and Robson, Peter, eds. Law and Film: Representing Law in Movies (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing, 2001). ISBN 0-631-22816-0, ISBN 978-0-631-22816-5 176 pages.
- Thain, Gerald J., "Cape Fear, Two Versions and Two Visions Separated by Thirty Years." ISBN 0-631-22816-0, ISBN 978-0-631-22816-5 176 pages.
See also