Cape Fear (1962)

The following article is presented for entertainment puproses. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject.

Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday!  We have an installment of the original vs. remake series I do with Tiffany A. White.  This month’s movie is Cape Fear.  I will talk about the original today and Tiffany will talk about the 1991 remake at her blog on Friday.

I’ve spent a whole month trying to figure out how to talk about Cape Fear because it’s one of my favorite movies.  Let’s start with the basics.

Cape Fear is a 1962 movie which starred Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Martin Balsam, Telly Savalas, and Polly Bergen.  The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson.  Thompson is also known for directing The Guns of Navarone, which also starred Gregory Peck.

Summary: (homemade)

Sam Bowden (Peck) is a small town attorney who has always relied on the legal system to dole out justice.

Max Cady (Mitchum) is a violent sociopath just released from prison after serving eight years on rape charges.

Eight years earlier, Sam Bowden called the police to stop Max Cady from raping a woman.  Bowden later testified against Cady in court.

Gregory Peck
as Sam Bowden

Cady blames Bowden for the eight years he lost in prison, and he’s ready for serve up some revenge.  Max Cady poisons the Bowden dog and stalks Sam Bowden’s wife and daughter.

But, in the eyes of the law, Bowden can’t prove Cady has done anything.  Cady has been careful to do everything but break the law.

Robert Mitchum
as Max Cady

Sam Bowden must go against his principles and make his own justice to stop Max Cady from destroying his family…and getting away with it.

Watch the Trailer:

Many well known actors wanted to be part of Cape Fear.  Rod Steiger was interested in the Max Cady role.

Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Jack Palance, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson were all considered for the role of Sam Bowden.  Charlton Heston was originally cast, and Gregory Peck was a last minute replacement.

Charleton Heston

Cape Fear was a controversial film fifty years ago in 1962. The word rape had to be removed from the script even though that’s exactly what Max Cady intended to do to Sam Bowden’s wife and daughter.

That Max Cady intended to rape Bowden’s daughter–a child–was also controversial in that era.  While Cady’s intent is very obviously implied, it’s nowhere near as explicit as the 1991 remake.

The Bowden Family

Cape Fear is based on a novel written by John D. MacDonald in 1957.  The novel was originally titled The Executioners, but the title has now been changed to Cape Fear.

The novel appears to still be in print.  Unfortunately, it is not available on Kindle, so I did not read it as research for this post.

In the novel, Sam Bowden encounters Max Cady while serving as a JAG Lieutenant overseas in 1943.  He witnesses Cady assaulting a young Australian girl.

Cady is sentenced to life imprisonment at Leavenworth Prison.  In 1957, Cady’s sentence is commuted, and he tracks down Sam Bowden to ruin his life.

According to the reviews on Amazon dot com, the characterization in MacDonald’s novel is very good.  Perhaps it will be out on Kindle at some point.  I’d like to read it.

Bottom line on the original Cape Fear: even if you have seen the 1991 version and think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, you need to watch the original.  It’s a classic.  Robert Mitchum’s and Gregory Peck’s performances still hold up after fifty years.  The movie is intense and shocking at times.