Cape Fear (1962)

cape fear poster 1962 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Solid thriller

Less horror than the 1991 version

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Cape Fear

Studio:  Melville Productions

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Horror

Release Date(s):  April 12, 1962

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

cape fear robert mitchum max cady polly bergen

I don’t like old meat…

Max Cady (Robet Mitchum) has a score to settle with Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who helped send him away to prison for assaulting a woman.  Free and clever, Max is pushing Sam by following Sam, his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen), and their daughter Nancy (Lori Martin)…and Max intends to make Sam pay.  Using the law to his advantage, Max is turning the tables on Sam and intent on getting revenge.

Directed by J. Lee Thompson, Cape Fear is a suspense-thriller.  The film is based on the 1957 John D. MacDonald novel The Executioners.  Originally attached to Alfred Hitchcock, it was released to largely positive reviews and was remade in 1991 by Martin Scorsese.

I didn’t see Cape Fear until after the release of the remake.  While both movies have their own merit, the 1991 Cape Fear really captured the menace and amplified the horror of a stalking killer.  The original Cape Fear did what it could when it could, but it feels limited by the time in which it as made.

cape fear gregory peck vs robert mitchum max cady

I just want to hug you!

Cape Fear doesn’t quite go far enough here.  We get Mitchum leering after the young daughter of Peck and Bergen and he does feel dangerous.  Cady is (probably realistically) less intelligent than De Niro’s take on the character, but in ways that almost makes him more dangerous…he could have a more hair trigger response.  Unfortunately, much of the outright dangerous and perverse behavior of the character couldn’t be shown in 1962 so he feels a bit bland in comparison to the scene stealing De Niro.  Though I find the final scene in the 1991 Cape Fear a bit goofy and overblown, it feels here that it is slightly underdone.

The cast handles the script well and is solid.  Gregory Peck (like always) is the perfect gentleman character and has little flaws (something changed for the 1991 version).  Mitchum always seemed dangerous, but still doesn’t come off as menacing as he does in Night of the Hunter in which he is perfect.  Martin Balsam and Telly Savalas are out to help Bowden deal with Mitchum and Polly Bergen and Lori Martin round out the perfect family.  Peck, Balsam, and Mitchum all went on to appear in the remake.

cape fear gregory peck lori martin polly bergen

Let’s not take another vacation to the river…

The film (especially as it draws to a conclusion) has a very noire feel.  This is an interesting contrast to the sunny world of Savannah, George where it is set, but the film seems to get darker and darker until the boat sequence on the Cape Fear River.  It doesn’t feel as set-based as some of the similar thrillers and the decision to make it in black-and-white helps give it its tone.

Cape Fear is a solid thriller.  While I’d put the remake more in the horror category, both films are scarier than a lot of horror films.  A criminal who has the law on his side and is taunting you is the stuff of nightmares.  See Cape Fear and see the other Cape Fear…both are worthy movies (something you can’t always say about remakes).

Related Links:

Cape Fear (1991)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response