Rewind film: Cape Fear, directed by J. Lee Thompson
Cape Fear surfaced two years after Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece of the macabre, Psycho, but the suspense drama was even edgier: it broke new boundaries by addressing then-taboo subjects.
Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen
J. Lee Thompson
surfaced two years after Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece of the macabre, , but the suspense drama was even edgier: it broke new boundaries by addressing then-taboo subjects.
For the past eight years, rapist Max Cady, played in understated style by bad boy Robert Mitchum, has been plotting revenge on a lawyer who testified against him: Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck). After his spell in prison, Cady knows of legal loopholes that will allow him to terrorise his target's wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen), and teenage daughter, Nancy (Lori Martin).
"I got something planned for your wife and kid that they ain't never gonna forget," Cady tells Bowden before mounting his harassment campaign.
Desperate to stop him, Bowden first calls the cops, but their hands are tied because Cady has stayed within the letter of the law. He then hires a private detective - played by future crime drama icon Telly Savalas - who tracks down a bar girl who has been attacked by Cady, but she's too scared to testify. Finally, he hires three goons to teach Cady respect, but is foiled again when the monster overpowers his attackers.
The family flee to Cape Fear - another miscue because Cady invades their houseboat. Cue the legendary showdown that blurred the border between acting and reality: prodded by director J. Lee Thompson, Mitchum cracked an egg over Bergen and smeared it on her chest. In the ensuing mayhem, Bergen injured her back and Mitchum ripped his hand open.
Similarly, the last-gasp aquatic duel between Mitchum and Peck turned messy: Mitchum held his co-star underwater an unduly long time, according to Thompson.
But the roughhousing gave the drama, adapted from John D. MacDonald's 1957 novel , added bite. "Menace quivers in the picture like a sneaky electrical charge. And Mr Mitchum plays the villain with the … wickedest arrogance and the most relentless aura of sadism he has ever managed to generate," critic Bosley Crowther wrote.
Unswayed, the censors insisted on cuts that removed six minutes of action. Denounced as exploitative, the film was shunned by punters, but its reputation grew, boosted by Mitchum's primeval swamp act.
By 1991, when director Martin Scorsese remade with Robert De Niro as Cady, the original had become a cult classic. In a gesture of respect, Scorsese gave Mitchum and Peck cameo roles, and kept the original music by Academy Award-winning composer Bernard Herrmann, who also scored . The remake is fairly impressive - but just not in the same league as the seminal, high-tension original where Mitchum remains restrained until splashdown.