Cape Fear (1962 film)
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|
|Edited by||George Tomasini|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Cape Fear is a 1962 American psychological thriller film starring Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, 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 testified against him. Cady begins to stalk and subtly threaten Bowden's family. He kills the Bowden family dog, though Sam cannot prove Cady did it. A friend of Bowden's, police chief Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam), attempts to intervene on Bowden's behalf; but he cannot prove Cady guilty of any crime.
Bowden hires private detective Charlie Sievers (Telly Savalas). Cady brutally attacks a promiscuous young 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 ashore.
The two men engage in a final violent fight on the riverbank. Bowden overpowers Cady but decides not to kill him, preferring to let him spend the rest of his life in jail. 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
- Edward Platt as Judge
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.
Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Charlton Heston, Jack Palance and John Wayne, were all considered for the role of the attorney, Sam Bowden. Peck was a last-minute replacement for Heston, who was originally cast.
Thompson had always envisioned the film in black and white prior to production. As 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 Cady has in mind for the family.
The outdoor scenes were filmed on location in Savannah, Georgia, Stockton, California and 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, 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's 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. While filming the scene, Mitchum cut open his hand, leading Bergen to recall: "his hand was covered in blood, my back was covered in blood. We just kept going, caught up in the scene. They came over and physically stopped us."
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. The censors stepped in, banned the use of the word "rape", and stated that depicting Cady as a soldier reflected adversely on U.S. military personnel.
Bernard Herrmann, as often in his scores, uses a reduced version of the symphony orchestra. Here, other than a 46-piece string section (slightly larger than usual for film scores), he adds 4 flutes (doubling on 2 piccolos, 2 alto flutes in G, and 2 bass flutes in C) and 8 French Horns. No use is made of further wind instruments or percussion.
Although the word "rape" was entirely removed from the script before shooting, the film still enraged the censors, who worried that "there was a continuous threat of sexual assault on a child." In order to accept the film, British censors required extensive editing and deleting of specific scenes. After making around 6 minutes of cuts, the film still nearly garnered a British X rating (meaning at the time, "Suitable for those aged 16 and older", not necessarily meaning there was pornographic content).
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.
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% 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."
Although it makes no acknowledgement of Cape Fear, the episode "The Force of Evil" from the 1977 NBC television series Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected uses virtually the same plot, merely introducing an additional supernatural element to the released prisoner.
The film serves as the basis for the 1993 episode of The Simpsons "Cape Feare" in which Sideshow Bob, recently released from prison, stalks the Simpson family in an attempt to kill Bart.
In April 2007, Newsweek selected Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) 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.
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- Machura, Stefan and Robson, Peter, eds. Law and Film: Representing Law in Movies (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing, 2001). 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.