Saturday, 6 August 2016
Movie Review: Cape Fear (1962)
Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) is a respected lawyer in a small town, where he lives with his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and young daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). Sam is suddenly confronted by Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), a criminal released after serving eight years in prison for sexual assault. Sam's testimony was instrumental in convicting Max, and now the felon seems intent on extracting revenge.
Except that Max does nothing to break the law, satisfying himself with simply intimidating Sam, Peggy and Nancy with his sheer presence. Feeling threatened, Sam turns to his friend police chief Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam) and then private detective Charlie Sievers (Telly Savalas) to try and find a reason to either run Max out of town or arrest him. But Max is one step ahead, and he hires lawyer Dave Grafton (Jack Kruschen) to defend his rights. With Sam growing more concerned for the welfare of his family, he decides to stash Peggy and Nancy at a remote Cape Fear houseboat, but all will not go according to plan.
The film draws its power from Max Cady's stubbornly patient ability to actually do nothing except hover around Sam and his family, breaking no laws. Max instead takes out his demented sexual aggression on call girl Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase), and does so with such ferocity that he chases her out of town rather than turn her into a witness. Instead it is Sam who starts harbouring thoughts of criminality to put an end to the perceived threat, and suddenly the potential victim turns into a budding aggressor, moving both men closer together into a grey zone of emotional turmoil.
Robert Mitchum delivers one of his best performances, fully occupying the twisted and intimidating personality of Max Cady. Thompson knows exactly what to do with Mitchum: he just let's him be, such that scenes of Mitchum sitting and walking near enough to the Bowdens create exquisite tension, Mitchum's ever present Panama hat becoming a symbol of Cady's laid back approach to violence.
With one of the screens most memorable psychopaths leaving an indelible impression on an idyllic small town landscape, Cape Fear is a magnificently ominous thriller.
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