Monday, 26 January 2015

Cape Fear (1962) - movie review

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.


Philip Amos said...

Martin, I'm no film buff, but Robert Mitchum is one of the few actors who'll cause me to watch a movie just because he's in it. There was an aspect to him that adds an extra dimension to the pleasure of watching him. I use 'pleasure' loosely -- in The Night of the Hunter he makes his character in Cape Fear look like Robin Hood.

I first caught on to this dimension of the man watching an hour-long interview on the Dick Cavett Show. Mitchum was expelled from school at 12, went to live with his sister in Hell's Kitchen, got expelled again, and then 'road the rails', winding up on a chain gang for vagrancy. And never was there a tougher, more hard-drinking, or more cynical actor where Hollywood was concerned.

But in the show he kept startling me by 'riffing' the conversation with quotations from poetry -- and the first he quoted was Abdul Abulbul Amir!! A little research revealed that he'd been writing poetry since he was 16, as also writing song lyrics and for his sister's stage act. In short, he was an auto-didact in the area of English Literature, and there was much behind the public persona. Watching Night of the Hunter, a truly terrifying movie, it adds something to have this in mind. I don't think any of his poetry has been published, but I'd certainly like to see some. I must do another search, for it's been a while since I looked.

Also, is the 'legendary' (forgive me, Martin, but I do think that an overused word) composer you allude to Luther Henderson? He did accompany Polly Bergen on her 1957-8 TV show -- perhaps earlier in clubs, though that seems unlikely.

pattinase (abbott) said...

One of those films that scares me to death. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and this one make Mitchum a formidable villain.