Plot: What’s it about?
Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) is a lawyer in a small town and while his life is uneventful, he is more than content. He has a wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen) and a young daughter, Nancy (Lori Martin), as well as a nice home and stable law practice. But his life is about to be altered, as Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) has been released from prison and he has a score to settle with Bowden. These two men have a past and while Bowden has left it in the past, Cady still remembers and now that’s he is a free man, he intends to gain some revenge. You see, Bowden was involved in Cady’s case and when Bowden testified again him, Cady was sent to prison for some time. But now he is out and he makes a beeline for Bowden, as well as the other members of his family. It starts off rather harmless, but soon Cady begins to torment Bowden and his loved ones, so the local police chief and a private detective are brought in to help. Cady is smart however and remains beyond the touch of the law, so Bowden takes a risk and creates a trap that could ensnare Cady once & for all, as a private boat sails into the waters of Cape Fear…
This intense thriller has won much acclaim over the years and was even remade in 1991, with Martin Scorsese at the helm. While that remake was also quite good, I’ve always found the original to be the superior version. The story is fantastic and offers plenty of chances for suspense, shocks, and thrills, of which Cape Fear supplies in healthy doses. The film begins in fine form and continues on well enough, but as the events unfold, the tension grows and by the time the climax has arrived, it is just that, which is rare in movies, I think. Although some modern audiences could find a little slow in places, I think it moves at a welcome pace and never rushes, which is important when you have a story as rich & complex as this one. As good as J. Lee Thompson’s direction is here however, the two leads steal the show, both giving simply excellent performances. Robert Mitchum is dead on as Max Cady, while Gregory Peck nails his role of Sam Bowden as well. In short, this is one of the finest thrillers ever crafted and while the remake is good, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to visit the original, I assure you.
His career is filled with memorable roles, but I tend to most remember Robert Mitchum’s turns as bad guys, especially his work as Max Cady. He seems so calm and collected here, but oozes this internal evil, very impressive stuff. His vocal patterns seem to be right on the mark, as is his body language, he is Max Cady here, no two ways about it. In the remake, Robert De Niro gives a solid turn as Cady, but I think Mitchum has the edge on all counts. The material here paints a more black & white picture of Cady, but Mitchum keeps the character on track, never slipping even for a second. This is easily one of his finest roles and one of my personal favorites turns of his, as Robert Mitchum is excellent here, from start to finish. You can also see Mitchum in such films as El Dorado, The Night of the Hunter, The Enemy Below, The Longest Day, and Tombstone. The cast also includes Gregory Peck (The Sea Wolves, Spellbound), Polly Bergen (Cry-Baby, Making Mr. Right), and Martin Balsam (St. Elmo’s Fire, Two Minute Warning).
Video: How does it look?
Cape Fear is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I’ve never been too pleased with home video editions of the film, but Universal has changed that, thanks to this superb visual transfer. The print looks almost pristine here, with minimal grain, marks, and debris, which results in a stunning image, to say the least. The black & white photography is gorgeous and this treatment ensures it looks as good as can be, via sharp black levels and an image that never softens even for a second. A few minor issues keep this one from the elusive perfect score, but this is still a superb effort and the finest home video version to date.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included mono option is no frills, but it covers the basics and in this case, that is enough to warrant a solid score. Bernard Hermann’s masterful score is in top form here, no signs of distortion in the least to report. This is not the kind of movie that relies on intense sound effects, but the elements sound as good as possible, which is about all we can ask, I think. No issues in terms of dialogue either, as vocals sound clean and clear at all times. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes some production notes, talent files, production photos, and the film’s theatrical trailer. The main bonus here is a thirty minute behind the scenes featurette, which offers some welcome interviews and such. I know it seems short in duration, but this piece packs in all sorts of information, from the inception of the film to the reaction. One of the better short featurettes I’ve seen, this one is well worth a look, to be sure.