CAPE FEAR

USA

1961

 

Sam Bowden: Gregory Peck

Max Cady: Robert Mitchum

Peggy Bowden: Polly Bergen

Nancy Bowden: Lori Martin

Mark Dutton: Martin Balsam

Dave Grafton: Jack Kruschen

Charles Sievers: Telly Savalas

Diane Taylor: Barrie Chase

Garner: Paul Comi

Officer Marconi: John McKee

Deputy Kersek: Page Slattery

Officer Brown: Ward Ramsey

Judge: Edward Platt

Dr Pearsall: Will Wright

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Production co: Melville-Talbot

Producer: Sy Bartlett

Screenplay: James R. Webb

Based on the novel The Executioners by John D. MacDonald

Cinematography: Sam Leavitt

Editor: George Tomasini

Sound: Waldon O. Watson, Corson Jowett

Music: Bernard Hermann

99 mins

16mm

 

 

“Unforgettable villainy. Suspenseful and very frightening, thanks to Robert Mitchum's lethally threatening performance and the frightened reactions of a pro cast.

 

“Sexual deviate and lethal psychopath Mitchum is released from prison after serving a six-year term for rape and assault. He is bent on revenge against Peck, the witness whose testimony put him there, who is a family man and a lawyer with a private practice in Florida. When Peck learns Mitchum is in town, he goes to Balsam, the sheriff, who tries to make life miserable for Mitchum until a lawyer threatens to file suit on charges of harassment. Peck's dog is poisoned, then Mitchum takes to the phone, calling Bergen, the lawyer's wife, plaguing her with obscene remarks. Though he makes no overt threats, he intimates a dire fate for the family, including their teenage daughter, Martin. Because the police are helpless to jail the lunatic and the calls and oblique threats continue, Peck decides to handle matters himself.

 

“J. Lee Thompson directs at a clip, until the crawl toward the bayou climax, where the minutes feel like hours, and your heart sits in your throat. Peck is careful not to act the fear; he's an interesting foe for Mitchum. Bergen's performance reminds one that she should have been a bigger star, given her beauty and undeniable talent, and Martin recalls an era when teenagers really were innocent. Balsam, Savalas, and Chase contribute effective cameos. The musical score by Bernard Herrmann is a nerve-beater.” — TV Guide

 

“An irredeemable criminal exacts his revenge on the family of a lawyer who put him away. This supremely nasty thriller—originally severly cut by the British censor—boasts great credentials: a source in John D MacDonald’s novel The Executioners, Mitchum as the sadistic villain (a bare-chested variant on his Night of the Hunter role), Peck as the epitome of threatened righteousness, seedy locations in the Southern bayous, and whooping music by Bernard Hermann. If director, Thompson isn’t quite skilful enough to give the film its final touch of class (many of the shocks are just too planned), the relentlessness of the story and Mitchum’s tangibly sordid presence guarantee the viewer’s quivering attention.” — David Thompson, Time Out

 

“As a forthright exercise in cumulative terror Cape Fear is a competent and visually polished entry.

 

“Taken from John D. MacDonald's magazine-serialized novel, The Executioners, the screeplay deals with the scheme of a sadistic ex-convict (Robert Mitchum) to gain revenge against a smalltown Georgia lawyer (Gregory Peck), his wife and daughter. Peck, it seems, had testified against him eight years earlier for the savage assault on a woman in a parking lot.

 

“Mitchum's menacing omnipresence causes the family much mental anguish. Their pet dog is poisoned, the daughter has a harrowing encounter with the degenerate, and there is the culminating terror in Georgia swampland.

What ails Mitchum obviously requires violent sexual expression—the women he takes have to be clobbered as well as violated. But in the undiluted flow of evil, there is nothing in the script or J. Lee Thompson's direction which might provide audiences with some insight into Mitchum's behavior.

Peck, displaying his typical guarded self, is effective, if perhaps less distraught over the prospect of personal disaster than his character might warrant. Granting the shallowness of his motivation, Mitchum has no trouble being utterly hateful. Wearing a Panama fedora and chomping a cocky cigar, the menace of his visage has the hiss of a poised snake. Polly Bergen, breaking an eight-year screen absence, turns in a sympathetic job as Peck's wife.”

Variety

 

 

 

“[A film] heavy on Spanish moss and sick behavior. Mitchum is a giant of evil in this movie; a slithery, completely corrupt, malevolent force. Along with his role as the crazed preacher in The Night of the Hunter, this is arguably his finest performance. A vicious ex-con, Mitchum shows up in the small North Carolina town where Gregory Peck is the chief prosecuting attorney. It was Peck who put Mitchum away for eight years for a hideous sex crime and Mitchum has used that time well, plotting his revenge on Peck through Peck's wife and daughter. The art is in the details, the gradual build-up of fear, the play on the title. [Mitchum is] the angel of death-with-pain, put on earth to give men pause...a swift lesson in the validity of Bad. Mitchum is The Other and there's no ignoring him.” — Barry Gifford, The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Films

 

“This 1962 thriller is better than the Scorsese remake—above all for Robert Mitchum's chilling performance as a vengeful ex-con and an overall brute force in the crude story line—though it's arguably still some distance from deserving its reputation as a classic. Stolid Gregory Peck plays the family man, and Polly Bergen is his menaced wife; Bernard Herrmann wrote the score. Based on John D. MacDonald's novel The Executioners; with Martin Balsam, Telly Savalas, and Barrie Chase. J. Lee Thompson directed.” — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

 

Synopsis

 

Lawyer Sam Bowden, his wife Peggy, and their twelve-year-old daughter Nancy, are a happy, peaceful family until the day that Max Cady comes to town. Cady is an ex-convict, a sadist and a sex maniac, who blames Sam for his conviction and swears to get even. Sam tells his fears to police chief Dutton, who does his best within the law, and even hires an attorney to defend his civil liberties. Dutton can’t help. Sam is forced to hire a private detective, Sievers. Sievers finds out that Cady has beaten up a girl, Diane, but she refuses to talk. Cady meanwhile continues his campaign of terror. He poisons the Bowdens’ dog. He scares the little girl. And he refuses to be bought off. In desperation Sam hires three thugs to beat up Cady, but he beats them up instead. Sam finally decides to have it out. He takes his wife and daughter to a remote log cabin by Cape Fear, and pretends to go away. Cady, as expected is, lured there to do his worst. He attacks Peggy, but Nancy is his real goal. Nancy, however, escapes, and after a fight, Sam vanquishes Cady.