(Netflix Streaming, September 2017) If you’re going to remake a classic film, you might as well get Scorsese to direct, and get the original film’s two main actors in minor roles. That’s as close to a stamp of approval as you’ll ever get, although a title sequence by Saul Bass and reprising the original’s music score by Bernard Hermann also helps. Suffice to say that overall, the 1991 version of Cape Fear is a good movie and a successful remake of its predecessor. It updates the story, adds more details for savvier audiences (including the whole “restraining order” stuff missing from the original), cranks up the violence, doesn’t shy away from details that would have been too intense for audiences of the original 1962 film, and uses every trick of then-modern cinematography. With Scorsese at the helm, the direction is intentionally jarring, and the actors are following a coherent plan. While Nick Nolte is solid as the father trying to defend himself and his family against a dangerous ex-convict, it’s Robert de Niro who steals the spotlight as the villain Max Cady, with some assistance from Juliette Lewis as a teenage prey. The only problem in de Niro’s performance is that it’s based on an overcooked character: Not only is Cady dangerous in the criminal sense, he’s also implausibly well informed in matter of law and literature, making him seem less real than the rough and canny bruiser in the original. I’m also not terribly happy at the way the film dispenses with the character as compared to the original in which the family got to keep some of its innocence. Some artistic choices do date the film more precisely than I’d like—the credit sequence and some gratuitous recolouring of some sequences now seem more ridiculous than threatening. Still, all in all, Cape Fear is a good thriller by a master of the form, a decent homage to the original while polishing some of the first film’s most disappointing aspects. See it, but see it alongside the original.
(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.