Today: February 20, 2024

Cape Fear

Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum star in Hollywood’s 1962 classic tale of revenge and murder. Robert Mitchum is unforgettable as Max Cady, an ex-con determined to exact a terrible revenge on lawyer Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) and his family. Director J. Lee Thompson builds tension with each scene leading to a deadly showdown at Cape Fear. This is truly a masterpiece of shock and suspense.

Cape Fear is based on The Executioners, by John D MacDonald (Peck changed the name as he was under the impression that films with geographical titles did well at the box office). In the book Cady was a soldier, court-martialed and convicted on Lieutenant Bowden’s testimony, for the brutal rape of a 14-year-old girl. Before filming, censors banned the use of the word “rape”, and stated that depicting Cady as a soldier reflected badly on U.S. military personnel. Even so, the film still enraged the censors, who were 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.

Many of the outdoor scenes were to be filmed on location in Savannah, Georgia. 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 instead.

The scene where Mitchum attacks Polly Bergen’s character on the houseboat was almost completely improvised. She suffered back injuries from being knocked around so much and 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.

Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam and Robert Mitchum all appear in Martin Scorcese’s 1991 remake.

Rotten Tomatoes gives Cape Fear a 95% positive review. Although a filmnoir classic now, it’s financial failure at the time ended Gregory Peck’s company, Melville Productions.

The film serves as the basis for the 1993 episode of The Simpsons “Cape Feare” (with a haunting rendition of H.M.S. Pinafore) in which Sideshow Bob, recently released from prison, stalks the Simpson family in an attempt to kill Bart.

Synopsis: Sam is a small-town lawyer whose worst nightmare comes true when the criminal he helped put away returns to stalk his beautiful young wife (Polly Bergen). Sam is legally powerless to keep Max from playing his sadistic game of cat and mouse. Finally, Sam must put his family’s lives at stake in a deadly trap that leads to one of the most suspenseful and heart-rending confrontations ever committed to film.

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin

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