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DVD Review

DVD cover

Cape Fear (1962) (2016 Reissue)


Starring: Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Polly Bergen and Lori Martin
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £14.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 28 March 2016

Sam Bowden seems to have it all. A perfect family, a daughter who is growing up in the safety of a community where Bowden is well connected and respected. Walking out of court he is confronted by Max Cady, a man he had helped imprison for a violent attack on a woman. Cady’s attitude makes it plain to Bowden that Cady is out for revenge, so how far would a man who stands for justice and the rule of law go to protect his family...?

Cape Fear (B&W. 1962. 1 hr, 41 min, 34 sec) is a psychological thriller directed by J. Lee Thompson ((Ice Cold In Alex (1958), The Guns of Navarone (1961), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)).

The film was adapted by James R. Webb from the original novel, The Executioners by John D. MacDonald. The film was remade in 1991 by Martin Scorsese.

The film is an unapologetic homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Thompson was a massive fan of Hitchcock’s work and so brought in many elements reminiscent of the great man’s work. It was also the driving force behind the decision to film the story in black and white, a decision which turns out to be completely correct, making the finished movie far more suspenseful and tense than it may otherwise have been if filmed in colour.

The film was made by Gregory Peck’s own production company and although he took the role of Bowden, he realised that the role of Cady had the chance to completely dominate the film. The pivotal role finally went to Robert Mitchum who turned in, what is undoubtable, the most impressive role he has ever portrayed. The black and white picture, the tight and tense score by Bernard Herrmann, all go to enhance the unspoken threat of violence which Cady represents. Mitchum oozes threat, not just in what he says, but also in the way Mitchum holds himself, it’s a masterclass in psychological horror.

The audience is in no doubt that Cady means Bowden harm, especially through his family, but what is equally interesting is just how far Bowden is willing to bend the law. Initially he uses his connections with the local chief of police; Chief Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam) to lean on Cody in an effort to make him leave town, but Cady has spent his time in jail learning the law and is well prepared for such tactics. Bowden then employs a private detective, Charles Sievers (Telly Savalas) who hires three thugs to beat Cady, but Cady bests them all. Cady will not be threatened or bought off, but rather spends his time circling the Bowden family like a shark with the smell of blood in its nostrils.

The picture has held up well considering its age, probably helped by being filmed in black and white. The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with optional audio language tracks for Italian, English, French, Spanish, German and eighteen optional subtitle tracks.

There are a couple of extras on the disc, including The Making of Cape Fear (Colour 4:3 28 min) which has both Gregory Peck and J. Lee Thompson discussing the making of the film. There are production notes and photographs as well as the theatrical trailer (b&w. 4:3. 2 min, 07 sec).

There are many and varied reasons why Cape Fear always appears in the lists of the hundred most influential films made, not least because of the powerfully threatening portrayal of Cody by Mitchum, but also due to Peck's understated performance and the director’s deft touch.


Charles Packer

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