Cape Fear (1991) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The original Cape Fear (1962) is a terrific movie, but director Martin Scorsese sent a remake to theaters in 1991. So, which one is better? Before we get into that, let’s go over the plot. A deeply disturbed rapist who was recently released from prison, Max Cady (Robert De Niro), stalks the lawyer who unsuccessfully defended him in court, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), and his family. Okay, I won’t leave you in suspense, the 1962 one is superior, but the 1991 version is still worth watching.

The newer release of Cape Fear is, interestingly enough, much pulpier and more unsubtle than the original. The direction is histrionic and in-your-face, making you wonder if Martin Scorsese was trying to be funny. It’s almost comically over-the-top at times. I’m not sure if “operatic” is a word I’d normally use to describe a crime-thriller about a rapist stalking a lawyer and his family. To add to the movie’s heightened energy, the loud-and-proud musical themes from the 1962 original, composed by Bernard Herrmann, are employed here, as adopted by Elmer Bernstein.

The 1991 Cape Fear adds traces of moral ambiguity that weren’t present in the original. Unfortunately, this only detracts somewhat from the tension, as it’s scarier when the villain is interrupting a picture-perfect lifestyle of the heroes, as seen in the 1962 version. Robert De Niro’s bad guy’s characterization is all over the place. At least, three of the actors from the older one – Gregory Peck (as Lee Heller, a slimy lawyer), Robert Mitchum (playing Elgart, a policeman), and Martin Balsam (portraying a judge) – make cameo appearances.

Scorsese’s version of the story ups the ante (including in the violence department), but at what cost? It’s also the longer film, making it seem less taut than the 1962 one. However, it’s still a compelling thriller with some memorable scenes. It would probably be more fondly remembered if it wasn’t riding the coattails of the original, directed by J. Lee Thompson. It’s not essential viewing for film buffs, but they probably won’t regret watching it once or twice.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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.

The Batman (2022) Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 176 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Man, these Batman movies just keep getting darker and darker, don’t they? Set in Gotham City, superhero/masked vigilante Batman (Robert Pattinson) fights to stop the twisted murderer the Riddler (Paul Dano), who’s been bumping off members of the city’s elite. It’s a superhero actioner, an underworld neo-noir, a serial killer thriller, and a psychological drama all in one, without ever feeling hastily assembled or scattershot.

Robert Pattinson makes a surprisingly fearsome Batman, but a mediocre Bruce Wayne. Paul Dano’s Riddler is hold-your-breath scary, not just for his gruesome murders, but also for the philosophical threat he poses to Batman’s brand of justice. James Gordon is played by Jeffrey Wright, who knocks it out of the park with this role. The plot sometimes threatens to become convoluted, but it mostly stays understandable for somebody who’s bad at following intricate stories (like myself). The sinister musical score by Michael Giacchino sometimes resembles a high-tech, high-powered dirge.

The action sequences in The Batman might seem a little reserved at first compared to those in other entries in the Caped Crusader’s filmography. However, they feature clear camerawork, exciting choreography, and high stakes. The fist fight illuminated by automatic weapons fire, the harsh, pulse-pounding car chase, and the finale are the highlights in the action department. Pushing the MPAA’s PG-13 rating to its limits, this flick sometimes gives the audience am-I-watching-something-illegal? vibes, especially during the scenes involving the Riddler’s “dark web” presence.

The Batman is one of the best films in the superhero’s franchise. It features a solid blend of Batman doing detective work and outright battling his foes. Sure, it’s dark, intense, and oppressive, but this gamble paid off big time here, with the picture pulling off a real sense of danger and a desperate need for heroism. There are plenty of ace movies set in the Batman universe out there, and this is a welcome addition to that growing filmography.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

First to Fight (1967) Review

Director: Christian Nyby

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Loosely based on the real-life story of American Marine John Basilone, who became a U.S. war hero, First to Fight is a solid, if somewhat unremarkable, entry into the war genre. World War II is raging, and U.S. trooper Jack Connell (Chad Everett) is sent back to the United States to drum up support for buying war bonds after becoming a hero at the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific Theater. There are some similarities with other war flicks that have been made throughout the decades, but it still manages to be watchable.

The grenade-chucking battle scenes stick out in memory. The opening, nighttime firefight is especially fearsome. The battles have some careful choreography and are fairly violent for a 1960s movie. A few blood squibs are briefly visible during the hectic action sequences. The war zone takes up a great deal of the runtime in the first and third acts, with an okay romantic subplot occupying the middle act.

When the main character is on the home front, he spends most of his time romancing Peggy Sanford (Marilyn Devin). These scenes are not intolerable, but I think that most viewers would rather see what’s going on on the front lines. The movie masterpiece Casablanca (1942) ends up getting referenced quite a bit during this section of the picture. Hell, the characters even watch it in the theater. However, all of this just makes you want to view that film instead.

All in all, First to Fight is reasonable entertainment. I’m actually a bit surprised that it’s not remembered more fondly. The action scenes alone should’ve prevented this one from being almost completely forgotten. There’s one element to the work that I haven’t commented on yet, and that’s the presence of Gene Hackman as Tweed in one of his earliest roles. This flick was released the same year as his breakout film Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and it shows his potential to be a great movie star.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) Review

Director: Wallace Worsley

Genre(s): Drama, Romance

Runtime: 133 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Lon Chaney solidified his position as one of the greatest actors of the silent era with the 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Set in fifteenth-century Paris, France, an ugly-looking hunchback living in Notre Dame cathedral named Quasimodo (Lon Chaney) finds himself wrapped up in a plot to start a revolt by the French underclass. This silent film was directed by Wallace Worsley, who also helmed the exceptional The Penalty (1920), the gangster drama that was Lon Chaney’s breakout motion picture.

This big-budget historical epic has production values that still impress. The sets made for the flick are absolutely incredible. There are a few I-wonder-how-they-did-that moments, such as when Quasimodo is clambering all around the exterior of Notre Dame. Chaney’s performance is mesmerizing. He was forty when The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released, but he has the physicality of someone half that age here. He truly was the Man of a Thousand Faces.

Chaney’s a sight to see, but the film around him isn’t always doing him favors. There are a lot of characters to keep track of here, and the hunchback of Notre Dame almost becomes a supporting character in his own movie. The plot of the flick is pretty typical silent-era melodrama. Remove Chaney and the sets, and nobody would remember this picture. Fortunately, those two things are present, making it a rather good production overall.

Okay, the story in the 1923 adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn’t its strong suit. Acting and spectacle are what it does best. Seeing Chaney fight a mob by dousing them in boiling lead is worth watching the film for. The movie’s politics are certainly undercooked (is it saying that battling against royalist oppression is a bad thing?), but Chaney is one of the all-time greats, so I’d say “watch it.”

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

James Cagney returned to the role of gangster in 1938 with the popular crime-drama Angels with Dirty Faces. Here, a group of inner-city kids find themselves torn between the influences of tough mobster Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and virtuous priest Jerry Connelly (Pat O’Brien). Who will they follow in the footsteps of? Who will survive to the ending? Is James Cagney the best basketball referee of all time? Humphrey Bogart also shows up as corrupt lawyer James Frazier.

Cagney gives one of the strongest performances of his career here (he was given an Oscar nomination for Best Actor). The acting is terrific across the board, and the use of light and shadow is excellent. Overall, this movie is not as nitty-gritty as The Public Enemy (1931), action-packed as ‘G’ Men (1935), or ferocious as White Heat (1949), but Angels with Dirty Faces has a clear identity of its own.

This is a very well-paced gangster film, with it moving from scene to scene with amazing grace. On the action front, things are pretty solid. The big action moment, the final shootout, has got to be one of the very best gunfights in cinema up to that point in history. Cagney apparently had actual bullets fired in his general area during filming. Director Michael Curtiz (who would later helm Casablanca [1942]) is no stranger when it comes to exciting action.

It’s not quite up there with the aforementioned White Heat or The Public Enemy, but Angels with Dirty Faces is still one of Cagney’s best flicks. The picture’s ambiguous ending has been debated by fans for decades, and the acting still holds up. This one is certainly recommended. In Home Alone (1990), a movie titled Angels with Filthy Souls is watched on television, and, in its sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), a film named Angels with Even Filthier Souls makes an appearance.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

I Walk the Line (1970) Review

Director: John Frankenheimer

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Gregory Peck stars in a rural crime-drama with a soundtrack consisting of tracks from Johnny Cash? Yes, this film exists…and it’s not too bad either. In small-town Tennessee, Sheriff Tawes (Gregory Peck) falls in love and has an affair with Alma McCain (Tuesday Weld), the daughter of local illegal moonshiner Carl McCain (Ralph Meeker). Blood will be shed before this story is over.

Of course, the most famous element of this picture is its Johnny Cash soundtrack (“I Walk the Line” is unsurprisingly present). It’s not enough to make the movie worth watching by itself, but it does improve the scenes that it appears in. There isn’t much action here, but there is suspenseful excitement at the very end. This is far from Gregory Peck’s best role, but he’s fine in I Walk the Line.

Even though I Walk the Line is about the main character’s personal dilemma, it isn’t a particularly inspiring (for the lack of a better word) one. How about not having an affair, especially with a moonshiner’s kid? How about that, Mr. Peck? Think! Gregory’s character’s wife, Ellen Haney (Estelle Parsons), and his deputy, Hunnicutt (Charles Durning), probably end up suffering the most from his affair, even if both of their roles are pretty forgettable.

According to the IMDb Trivia section for this work, it is “[c]onsidered by many to be Peck’s worst film.” Ouch. Okay, I don’t think that it’s that terrible (haven’t these viewers seen Marooned [1969]?), but it doesn’t give you very many compelling reasons to set aside some time for it. I Walk the Line is watchable, despite being neither-here-nor-there in the recommendability department. Normally I’d say “Gregory Peck fans might enjoy it,” but, considering its reputation, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Straight Story (1999) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Biography, Drama

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Old Iowan man Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who can’t drive regular automobiles, sets out on his riding lawnmower to visit his ill brother, Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), who lives in Wisconsin. In a filmography largely consisting of bizarre, uneasy-feeling surrealist flicks, this just might be director David Lynch’s strangest movie. I mean, David Lynch actually made a motion picture that was released by Disney and given a G rating by the MPAA (despite some mild swearing and a dead deer)?

One of the most stereotypically Midwestern movies ever made, the acting performances here are all completely convincing. The actors and actresses in The Straight Story are really good. It’s probably one of the best-acted productions I’ve ever seen. It really draws you in and it ends just as soon as the main character’s lawnmower-riding shtick starts to get old for the audience.

Rejoice David Lynch fans, for his trademark weird sense of humor is still alive and well (although this is a drama first and foremost). The Straight Story might have a gentle exterior, but is it just me, or does this flick deal with some heavy topics? The scene depicting veterans discussing their war-time experiences springs to mind as one of the movie’s weightier moments.

This Midwestern odyssey is worth watching…but for who? Yes, it’s rated G by the MPAA, but would a child enjoy it? It’s probably a bit too slow, contemplative, and lacking in fireworks for the younger demographics, but I’m sure many adults will get a kick out of it. It’s more than just a movie about an old-timer driving around on a lawnmower, it’s an existentially-minded drama with some moving elements. Oh yeah, it’s also based on a true story. Who would’ve known?

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Man from Del Rio (1956) Review

Director: Harry Horner

Genre(s): Drama, Western

Runtime: 82 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Set during the Wild West period, drifter Dave Robles (Anthony Quinn) is made the sheriff of a small town after dealing with some of the local riff-raff. Man from Del Rio is a pretty typical typical western movie for its time period. There’s not much that sets it apart from the rest of the various other 1950s westerns, other than the fact that it stars Anthony Quinn, one of Hollywood’s hardest hard men.

Yes, there is some padding in Man from Del Rio, despite its runtime of only 82 minutes. It should also be noted that there are a few – er – similarities with that other ’50s western, High Noon (1952). One thing that they have in common is Katy Jurado (playing Estella here). Anthony Quinn and her look like they were made for each other in this picture. However, the High Noon-esque finale in the film that this review is about falls a bit on the anti-climactic side.

One should not go into Man from Del Rio expecting wall-to-wall action, but it is blessed with one Hell of a barroom brawl. Filmed in fairly long takes with lots of breakable parts of the set, it ranks among the best one-on-one fights in western movie history. It’s superb (although the Goofs section of this flick’s IMDb profile alleges that the stunt doubles are “very obvious”). Other than that punch-up, there’s some gunplay, but it pales in comparison to that saloon smashing.

This is not one of my favorite western movies, even if Anthony Quinn is one of my favorite actors. The plot has a few interesting beats, but it can’t escape from the shadow of High Noon. If it wasn’t for the Anthony Quinn Factor and the barroom fist fight, this film wouldn’t really be worth watching at all. However, as it stands now, it’s an acceptable way to waste some time, although they really should’ve worked on that ending a bit more.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Touch of Evil (1958) Review

Director: Orson Welles

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes (original theatrical cut), 111 minutes (restored cut)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Touch of Evil, released in 1958, was one of the last films noirs from the golden age of that style in the 1940s and 1950s…and it’s one of the best. The story’s about American cop Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) and Mexican police officer Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) investigating a fatal car-bombing along the border between their two countries. The most critically-acclaimed movie from director Orson Welles may be Citizen Kane (1941), but, to be honest, I’d rather watch Touch of Evil, which he helmed and starred in.

In addition to the talented cast, the cinematography is a major star of the show. The long, one-shot opening sequence, depicting the car-bombing that sets off the plot, is a doozy and is rightfully famous. Shadows and interesting camera angles are used incessantly. The flick has a seedy, sleazy, nocturnal atmosphere that works wonders (although a few too many scenes take place during daytime).

This boundary-pushing classic is no action picture, but those moments where the shit hits the fan warrant a chef’s kiss. One murder scene is just as intense and ferocious as anything you’d see nowadays. It’s an edge-of-your-seat part of a fantastic film, with another one of those staggering sequences being the one with the hopped-up hoodlums at a remote motel. Some have raised issue with Charlton Heston playing a Mexican character, but it’s handled very tastefully for that sort of thing (no cheesy accent here).

If I must find any fault with Touch of Evil (other than the aforementioned complaint about too much sunlight at times), it’s that the plot can feel a bit vague in the opening scenes (even if the first thing the audience sees in the entire picture is a bomb). While films noirs generally aren’t my thing, this one is harsh, in-your-face, reasonably easy to follow, not overly talky, and satisfying. This is a movie that any self-respecting cinephile needs to check out.

My rating is 8 outta 10.