Cape Fear (1962) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1962 classic Cape Fear (which was remade in 1991 with the same title) is one of those thrillers that wasn’t directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but easily feels like it could’ve been (another one is Mirage [1965], which also stars Gregory Peck). An ex-con named Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), who just got out of prison, stalks the lawyer, Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), who put him behind bars and his family. It could be the docks or the “bowling center,” Max Cady is sure to be right behind them.

This modern-feeling crime-drama was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who had previously helmed the World War II action-adventure masterpiece The Guns of Navarone (1961) and would later direct – erm – Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987). His leadership of the project is rock-solid. Cape Fear is a tense, tightly-wound movie, with moody black-and-white cinematography and a booming, delightfully unsubtle musical score from Bernard Herrmann (who frequently collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock).

One of the best aspects of this picture is its performances. It’s a battle of wills (that’s threatening to turn physical) between Gregory Peck’s upright integrity and Robert Mitchum’s sexual menace. The latter is truly an animalistic force of nature here. Watching him crash the Bowden family’s idyllic lifestyle is disturbing. Good supporting roles are provided by Martin Balsam as Mark Dutton, the police chief, and Telly Savalas as Charles Sievers, a private detective.

The 1962 version of Cape Fear is a tremendous thriller in the vein of Psycho (1960)-era Alfred Hitchcock. Intense from the get-go, the movie succeeds on Mitchum’s character’s unpredictability and Gregory Peck’s character’s willingness to go to extremes to defend himself and his family. It carefully escalates tension and excitement without feeling pulpy (not that pulp is a bad thing by any means). You have to find a copy of this one to watch.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

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