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Sam is a small-town lawyer whose worst nightmare comes true when the criminal he helped put away returns to stalk him and his family. 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 the deadly trap that leads to one of the most suspenseful and heart-rending confrontations ever committed to film...
Cape Fear (1962) was originally based on John D MacDonald's novel The Executioners. The movie strayed from the book's premise due to issues with the film censors. In the novel Cady was a soldier who was court-martialed and convicted on Lieutenant Bowden's testimony, for the brutal rape of a 14-year-old girl.
What we end up with is a watered down version, with Cady being released from prison for a sexual attack on a woman. Bowden was witness to the attack and his evidence in court put Cady away.
Cady spent his incarcerated years thinking about killing Bowden. Then in the final year of his sentence he realised that murdering Bowden was letting him off the hook, so his plans change from destroying him piece by piece.
It's certainly a movie that rewards those who watch it a second time - as Cady's plans are not clear on the first viewing. It's only when you know what he plans to do that his character takes a more sinister edge. As with all realistic evil characters, Robert Mitchum's subtle, even partly likeable, portrayal of Cady helps to give the film's final moments more of an impact.
Worthy of note is Bernard Herrmann's incredible score (which was also reused for the 1991 remake) which gives the movie that Hitchcock feel.
It's weird, but even today when there is so much violence on TV and in movies, that the final act in Cape Fear is still uncomfortable to watch. It's probably because the film is a slow burner and unlike so many modern movies, it doesn't use too much violence and most of that is implied.
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