SLIP/retro: CAPE FEAR (1962)

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This classic thriller starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Many will remember the Scorsese remake with DeNiro, but this one here is the grand-daddy of it all. Considering the year it was made, CAPE FEAR is a disturbing and intense psychological game of cat and mouse.

Peck plays a lawyer. No shock there, if you’ve seen his legendary role as Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. So he instantly has this built in classy hero vibe.

Both films came out the same year, but for me Peck has been Finch for decades. This is the first time I ever actually watched this black and white classic film.

I’m telling you guys, this film still holds up. I knew from the opening musical scoring that this was my type of movie. Bernard Hermann’s triumphant score was one of the things that made it into the Scorsese remake. The score fuels the more thrilling sequences.

Films of this era didn’t rely on editing or showing violence to scare the audience, it was all about staging a scene. Hermann’s score accentuated the atmosphere tremendously.

CAPE FEAR is very deliberately paced, setting up a stunning climax. By the time Peck’s family is in danger, we’ve really got to know them. Since violence is kept to a minimum, feelings of danger arise because we care for the characters.

Mitchum portrays a real slimy villain here. See, Peck put him into jail years ago. Now that he’s free, he’s fixin’ on some revenge.

Mitchum is just as charismatic as Peck. Whereas Peck is the boyscout, Mitchum is the bad boy.

Physically, he is an imposing presence, but it’s his charm and crooked smile that scared me most. He’s able to lure his prey in unknowingly.

It isn’t long before he starts harassing Peck’s family and the real “fun” begins.

I won’t spoil the third act on you, because I implore you to seek out the original CAPE FEAR. For me, it’s always been on my radar, but I felt like I already knew the story because of the remake.

However, like Shakespeare, sometimes it’s really worthwhile to see how someone else portrays a character, and how another writer/director interprets the material. I thought De Niro was really good as the villain, but now I’d say Mitchum really gives him a run for the money. In comparison, De Niro is really over the top in Scorsese’s 1991 remake.

Don’t worry, this black and white movie is anything but boring. Aside from relating to the heroes, you will be creeped out by Mitchum.

Sometimes the subtlety of classic cinema works much better. For example, when Mitchum stands atop a pier and gazes down on the Peck’s young daughter… alone in a boat. The scariest idea is what he could do, not necessarily what he does do. 

Peck makes an unlikely action hero here. He’s the everyday man up against a monster. He doesn’t know if he’s capable of stopping Mitchum, but he has to try. His family is in danger.

Once Peck stands up to Mitchum, the meager man owns the screen. His threats are very real. By the end, Mitchum and Peck WILL square off.

Check out CAPE FEAR if you’re a big Scorsese fan and want to see what inspired him to film his own version. Or maybe you should check it out simply to switch up the pace of current special FX driven material. It’ll help cleanse you’re movie palette.

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Curious for more? Check out the vintage trailer.

What do you think?

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12 thoughts on “SLIP/retro: CAPE FEAR (1962)

  1. Loved your assessment. I’ve often wondered which film version I liked better. You think DeNiro is over the top, and I think you probably right, however, he scares me more than Mitchum. I love Scorsese’s negative flip and the music. God I was scared. But the classic is more realistic and quite entertaining. Can I vote for a tie?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha ties are allowed, Cindy.

      I want to rewatch De Niro version, since it’s been a while. I remember muscles, tattoos, slicked hair, and ridiculous accent. Scorsese’s version was more intense, and obvious… whereas Mitchum built a slow steady sense of dread.

      Entertainment wise the remake might have upperhand. Damn. You’re right, it must be a tie between 2 movies 😉

      Like

      1. Yes. I definitely remember Juliette Lewis in that role. Actually, I think this started to get her notice right, leading up to her amazing Natural Born Killer role.

        You’re right, Nolte was really good. He was really charismatic back then, like Prince of Tides era. I have to rewatch the Scorsese remake again!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I love Mitchum pretty much in anything, though I tend to prefer him in westerns or dramas as he really has a wide range of acting chops. But really, anything. The Night of the Hunter is a classic.

        Liked by 1 person

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