Cape Fear (1962)

(On TV, September 2017) I caught this film mostly as a prelude to watching the 1991 remake, but I’m actually impressed at how well this Kennedy-era thriller has held up. Even (slightly) pulling its punches regarding violence and sexual assault, Cape Fear does manage to be gripping and nightmarish. Much of this effectiveness has to be credited to Robert Mitchum: Gregory Peck is fine as the stalwart hero of the story, but it’s Mitchum’s incredibly dangerous ex-convict character that makes the movie work so well even fifty-five years later. The houseboat assault sequence alone, a lengthy one-shot that begins with an egg being smashed on the film’s female lead, is still off-putting even today. It certainly helps that Cape Fear has a strong Hitchcock influence (he storyboarded it; J. Lee Thompson stepped in after Hitchcock quit the project but kept most of the style intact), and remains distinctive despite imitators and a lasting influence. I was favourably impressed by the film, and actually prefer it to its slick 1991 remake in many ways.

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