Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Cape Fear (1962 film)
Based on the novel The Executioners by John D. MacDonald, Cape Fear is the story of a criminal who goes after the attorney who put him in prison while stalking the man’s family. Directed by J. Lee Thompson and screenplay by James R. Webb, the film is a revenge story of sorts from a man went to prison as he wants to go after the one who put him there as he plans to make the life of this man and his family a living hell. Starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Telly Savalas, and Martin Balsam. Cape Fear is a gripping yet mesmerizing film from J. Lee Thompson.
The film is a simple story of a criminal who had just been released from prison after an eight-year sentence for rape where he decides to go after the attorney who put him in prison and make the life of the man and his family a living hell. In a way, it is a revenge story but it’s the antagonist that is seeking revenge though he is a man that is quite brutal in his actions as well as create a sense of discomfort to those he’s after. In some ways, the film is a battle of wits between this very devious and cunning criminal and an attorney who is about doing the right thing but finds himself on edge in protecting his family. Especially as the criminal in Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) has eyes for the attorney’s young daughter that just adds to the dramatic stakes for Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who turns to friends in the police department and a private detective for help but things however don’t go very well.
James R. Webb’s screenplay definitely plays into a battle of wits where Bowden knows who Cady is and what he did but doesn’t think Cady is a big threat at first. Yet, seeing him nearby and other incidents would force Bowden to try and see if Cady is really up to something with the aid of the police and the private detective Charlie Sievers (Telly Savalas). Even as there was an incident that Cady was involved in as Bowden, Sievers, and police chief Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam) realize that they can’t arrest him for. It adds to some of the psychological elements of the film where Cady’s presence would also bring terror to Bowden’s family life as it relates to his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and their 14-year old daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). It adds to the battle of wits and will between the two as Bowden realizes that money nor his own threats could stop Cady.
J. Lee Thompson’s direction is quite gripping for the way he sets the mood for much of the suspense in the film. Shot partially on location in Savannah, Georgia and Stockton, California with some of the interiors shot on soundstages at Universal Studios in Hollywood. The film does have the look of a film set in the American South where it does feel hot as well as bringing a sense of discomfort. While Thompson does put in some stylish shots such as a few slanted camera angles, low-angles, and other shots similar to film noir to set a mood for scenes of terror. Thompson also manages something straightforward with the way he frames his actors into a scene but also maintain something that is dramatic as it relates to the stakes of Cady’s threats. Even in a scene where Peggy tries to stop her husband from descending into Cady’s level to remind him that he has more to lose than Cady. The film’s climax at a river where Bowden’s houseboat is would be the ultimate battle in a game of wits and will but it also showcases what must be done. Especially as Thompson creates these moments that build up the tension and suspense as it goes into a great payoff towards the end. Overall, Thompson crafts a thrilling and intense film about a criminal trying to get revenge on the man that put him in prison.
Cinematographer Sam Leavitt does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the beautiful look of the scenes set in the day to the eerie mood for the scenes at night with its noir-like look in its shadows and shades. Editor George Tomasini does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward but also have these rhythmic touches that does a lot to play into the suspense and intense moments in the film. Art directors Robert F. Boyle and Alexander Golitzen, with set decorator Oliver Emert, do nice work with the look of a bar that Cady goes to as well as the scenes in the courtroom and the houseboat that Bowden owns.
Costume designer Mary Willis does terrific work with the costumes from the Panama hat and clothes that Cady wears to the more straight-laced look of Bowden as well as the dresses Peggy and Nancy wears. The sound work of Corson Jowett and Waldon O. Watson is superb for some of the eerie moments set in the film‘s climax at the river where its usage of natural sounds does so much to play into the suspense and terror. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is amazing as it is one of the film’s highlights as its orchestral-based score is filled with eerie string arrangements and themes that play into the drama as well as much of the suspense as it’s one of his best scores.
The film’s remarkable cast include some notable small roles from Joan Staley as a waitress Cady tries to flirt with at the bowling alley, Edward Platt as a judge, Will Wright as a doctor friend of Bowden, and Paul Comi as Bowden’s paralegal aide. Barrie Chase is wonderful as Diane Taylor as this woman Cady meets at a bar and flirts with only to be in for a night that she wouldn’t forget for all of the wrong reasons. Jack Kruschen is terrific as Cady’s lawyer who tries to ensure Cady’s innocence as well as get Bowden disbarred. Telly Savalas is fantastic as the private detective Charlie Sievers as a man who is asked by Bowden and Dutton to see if Cady is up to something where he would help Bowden out in a scheme to capture Cady for its climax. Martin Balsam is excellent as Bowden’s friend in police chief Mark Dutton as an authority figure who also knows Cady is up to something but also realizes how much trouble Bowden is getting himself into by trying to go after Cady.
Lori Martin is brilliant as Nancy as Sam and Peggy’s 14-year old daughter who is aware of what his happening as she would have her own frightening encounter with Cady where she also struggles with what he might do. Polly Bergen is amazing as Peggy Bowden as Sam’s wife who deals with the severity of what is happening as she tries to get her husband to see reason when he starts to fall apart while having her own terrifying encounter with Cady in the film’s climax. Robert Mitchum is phenomenal as Max Cady as a released convict who is hell-bent on getting revenge on Bowden as he’s a man that is very intelligent but also one that has a real grudge towards Bowden where it’s a role that has Mitchum be very evil but also in a way that is just fun to watch. Finally, there’s Gregory Peck in an incredible performance as Sam Bowden as a good-hearted attorney who copes with the presence of Cady as well as what Cady would do where he nearly descends into very dark areas as it’s one of Peck’s definitive performances as he and Mitchum have great rapport together in the scenes they’re both featured in.
Cape Fear is a spectacular film from J. Lee Thompson that features top-notch performances from Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Along with a great supporting cast, chilling moments of suspense, and Bernard Herrmann’s eerie score. The film isn’t just a thriller that manages to create a sense of discomfort and terror but a film that is about will and wits and how two men try to battle each other in a game of good vs. evil. In the end, Cape Fear is a tremendous film from J. Lee Thompson.
Related: Cape Fear (1991 film)
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