Sam Bowden is a lawyer who finds that a criminal, Max Cady who he prosecuted resulting in him going to jail (he had attacked a young woman) has been released from prison. Cady starts a harassment campaign against Bowden and his family and is seemingly hellbent on making Sam suffer for his incarceration.
I knew of this film from when the Scorsese remake came out. I was in the midst of my love of all things Scorsese and thought his version of Cape Fear was very good. But that was until I saw the original.
For all of the visual frills, the over the top performance of De Niro as Cady and scenes that weren’t in the original (the thumb sucking scene instantly springs to mind as does the attack that resulted in the cheek biting gratuity) the remake isn’t as good as the original film. Sometimes, less is more as is the case with this film.
The 60’s version of Cape Fear is more understated, character-led and directed (by the underrated J Lee Thompson) with more restraint and is a much better film because of it.
The original feels less forced, more organic and features some much better performances from truly great actors such as Gregory Peck as Bowden and the great Robert Mitchum as Cady. Whenever Mitchum plays crazy he always excels and his portrayal of Cady is up there with his star turn in another fantastic shocker of a film, Night of the Hunter.
This isn’t to take away from the ’90s remake which is still a great film in its own right. But one great thing about it is that it might make more people aware that it is indeed a remake and so hopefully they may seek out the original. And they have a treat in store when they do.