Cape Fear is a notable American thriller dating back just over half a century. It was remade in 1991 by Martin Scorsese, but until recently I hadn't seen either version. Nor had I read The Executioners by John D.MacDonald on which it is based. Now I've filled one of these lamentable gaps, by watching the original movie, and it certainly lived up to my expectations.
Those expectations were fuelled in part by the casting of two stars at the peak of their fame. Gregory Peck plays a decent lawyer (at last, a nice attorney!) while Robert Mitchum is the psychopathic ex-convict who bears him a grudge. The cast also includes Telly Savalas as a private eye, long before he too found fame, in Kojak. The film is well acted throughout, but really it's Mitchum who is the outstanding performer, making the most of his menacing role as the ruthless rapist Sam Cady.
Mitchum stalks Peck, but doesn't stop there. He poisons the family dog, and makes it clear to Peck that he is determined to rape his wife and daughter. Peck tries to buy him off, and then to have him beaten up - all to no avail. The tension builds as it becomes clear that only the most drastic measures will save Peck and the woman and child he loves.
Peck's wife is played by Polly Bergen, who died recently, and who was also a singer (her accompanist and boyfriend in the early Fifties later became a legendary composer...) Apparently she and Mitchum were both injured when they filmed a scene where they fight together, so intensely were they caught up in the story.. And the action is enhanced by a characteristically dramatic score written by another legendary composer, the great Bernard Hermann. it all adds up to a film that well deserves its high reputation.