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Cape Fear

A movie directed by Martin Scorsese

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"I don't know whether to look at him or read him..."

  • May 25, 2000
Pros: this time, the color

Cons: ......

Unusual for me, I am going for the re-release instead of the original. The reason, for once, is color. Add Juliette Lewis, a psycho in her own right, and DeNiro, probably one of the most diverse actors around today, and you have sizzle and steam. I enjoyed the fact that Scorsese elected to bring Robert Mitchum back for this remake although he plays the part of the police chief instead of the perilously insane Max Cady, as well as Gregory Peck as the doddering attorney and Martin Balsam as the judge.

Generally speaking I like the older versions of a movie but there was something about Mitchum that did not hold the edge that DeNiro does in the remake. This could result from the fact that Mitchum, or the director, or the times, appear too contained and too straight - almost as if he is just an actor giving a performance (I hope you understand what I mean there) albeit a frightening one..

Maybe he never got into the role or maybe he never had that evil edge to his persona. Maybe because at the time the original release was filmed we had never been introduced to the likes of Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz, Charles Manson or Cary Strayner. Hollywood, and bad guys in general, stylized after people like Bugsy Malone, Scarface, Capone and Bonnie and Clyde. Evil people to be sure but evil for a purpose. Their killing was simply a means to an end - not glorifying it, strictly an example. Our generation of bad guys kill simply because they can. Perhaps this has made the audience edgier, therefore making this release more enjoyable (?) than the original.

From the opening scene of DeNiro in his prison cell pumping up to the ending, which I will not for once reveal, you are terrified of him. You don't like him regardless of the shafting he received by his attorney, Nolte, or the fact that he spent 14 years in prison unjustly, or that he lost his wife and child. You want to understand his circumstances but the pure evil emanating from him turns you away from his pain.

Also with this release the naivete of Juliette Lewis who, although they tried to make her appear brain dead, radiates pure sexual energy. The fact that she later builds on this unique power in the deranged film Natural Born Killers gives you insight to her ability as an actress. Or, who knows, like Nicholson, it just may be natural for her.

Perhaps I feel the original release was a little too vague, after all we weren't as in tune to our stalkers are we are now. Then, too, the cinematography seemed a little fake, almost giving you the impression of people standing before a painted set, which they might have been. The newer version with the storm brewing, the clouds roiling across the sky, the sea thrashing at the boat, becomes enhanced, eerie and spellbinding.

Some particularly chilling scenes - the flash of lightning showing Cady perched on Nolte's garden wall; handing upside down from the exercise bar talking to Juliette on the phone; strapping himself to the under carriage of their car then gently holding his finger to his lips in a ‘shhh' motion to the old lady at the pier; and the sexual interaction between DeNiro and Lewis giving you a peek into the birth of pedophilic obsession. (My own word there ha ha)

Don't get me wrong, the original version in 1962 was well made for its' time. The actors, Peck, Mitchum, Bergen, Balsam, and Savalas, give dynamic performances but the edge and fear were not there. Jessica Lange, who has paraded across the screen in everything from King Kong (1976) to Titus (1991), gives you a gritty, kick-in-the-gut punch as the fiesty wife and mother defending her brood. In retrospect, Polly Bergen in the original release seems as little too ‘Donna Reedy' - clean and respectable, not nearly as brash and outspoken as Lange.

Although Mitchum gave a chilling performance in the original, he does not pull off that finessed percolating spiteful hateful persona of DeNiro with his trimmed and sinewy body covered with garish tatoos, his swagger and impertinence. His scenes with Juliette Lewis at school left me emotionally drained as he draws her into his sexual fantasies with hypnotic ease and abandon.

Either viewing of this movie is worthwhile, but I personally preferred this new release. At the end I was ready for the movie to be over and be out of the lives of these possessed people and their problems, eager to leave this madness behind me.

Stars - 1962: Sam Bowden - Gregory Peck; Max Cady - Robert Mitchum; Peggy Bowden - Polly Bergen; Nancy Bowden - Lori Martin; Mark Dutton - Martin Balsam; Charles Sievers (detective) - Telle Savalas....... 1991: Sam Bowden - Nick Nolte; Max Cody - Robert DeNiro; Leigh (changed her name in this release as well as the daughter) Bowden - Jessica Lange; Danielle Bowden - Juliette Lewis; Claude Keresk (detective) - Joe Don Baker; Police Chief - Robert Mitchum; Lee Heller - Gregory Peck; Judge - Martin Balsam.


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Susi Dawson ()
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About this movie


Martin Scorsese's remake of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 film is a stylish, taut thriller. Public defender Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) served as the attorney for brutal rapist Max Cady (Robert De Niro) at his arraignment. Shocked by the violence of Cady's crime, Sam duplicitously withheld information regarding the sexually promiscuous activities of Cady's rape victim--information that might have won Max's acquittal. After serving a hellish 14-year sentence in a barbaric state penitentiary, the once-illiterate Cady, who has taught himself to read and studied up on the law during his incarceration, seeks vengeance against the prosperous small-town lawyer. Max makes good on his satanic threats to terrorize Sam, stalking the vulnerable family, poisoning their dog, brutally assaulting Sam's close friend, and sexually harassing Sam's daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis). To rid themselves of this raging force of retribution, Sam, Leigh, and Danielle join together against Max in a final struggle for their very existence. ...
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Director: Martin Scorsese
Release Date: 1991
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: Universal Studios Home Video (September 13, 2009)
Runtime: 2hr 8min
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