TBT Review: “Cape Fear” Surpasses the Original
The original “Cape Fear” from 1962 starred Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck and was meant to be remade by Steven Spielberg.
However, after working on the script for awhile he decided he’d rather work on “Schindler’s List” but unfortunately the rights were owned by Martin Scorsese. Luckily for him, Scorsese was willing to trade and threw himself into the scripting. Let’s see how it turned out and where it’s better or worse than the original.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4.5
Here’s the plot, a criminal Max Cady (Robert De Niro) is released from prison and seeks to get revenge on his former lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who intentionally withheld evidence that could have gotten Cady’s sentence greatly reduced. Cady seeks to punish Sam and destroy everything about his life. He savagely beats his mistress almost to death, assaults his daughter in the most insidious way, gets Sam disbarred from practicing law, all before going in for the kill. A simple story, but with one major change that makes it more interesting. In the original film and book Sam wasn’t Cady’s lawyer and never did anything wrong, just delivered the final piece of important information that put Max away. By changing it to his actual lawyer, it makes this dark story even darker with how morally gray it all becomes. Max is an evil rapist who deserved to be put away, but by our laws he is entitled to a lawyer who can work his best to save him from jail. Bowden makes a judgement call, one any of us would probably make. It may have been morally right, depending on your perspective, but at the same time it is what causes all his later pain. In general, he’s made into a very corrupt “hero”. I feel this improves the story.
Another great thing about the film is the performances which are all mostly extremely natural. However, De Niro goes in the opposite direction and sails way over-the-top. Although something to remember is that an over-the-top performance is not a synonym for bad acting. Because you cannot take your eyes away whenever Max Cady is on screen. Nick Nolte brings that level of sleaze you expect from him. Jessica Lange is a wonderful counter point and Juliette Lewis captures that awkward age that couldn’t come at a worse time than this. As a Martin Scorsese film, it is an incredibly well-made film with some stunning visuals and fascinating camera moves. As a result this film never feels slow. It also feels rather Hitchcocky in its approach. The script and direction work to slowly build up how extreme this story gets. The beginning feels much more real and normal and the film makes each attack more and more extreme so that by the time we get to the end with Max Cady almost acting like the Terminator in terms of pain threshold in the storm on the river, we don’t question it. Another great thing about Scorsese’s direction is how he knows what worked in the original (a chase in the school) and how he goes in a totally different direction and makes it far scarier and creepier of an idea with the infamous thumb sucking scene.
Entertainment Value – 4.5
While this film doesn’t exactly scare me per se its best quality is how it captures the feeling of not being able to get away from someone after you. No matter what they do Cady is always one step ahead. My nightmares often deal with this sort of situation and the film gets that so right. I also have to say I love all the cameos, especially Gregory Peck as a sleazy lawyer. He’s the antithesis of his screen persona and it’s great to see him sink his teeth into that kind of role. Also, what can be said about the Bernard Herrmann score? Even if you haven’t seen either version you know this score. In this world of remakes where if they actually do include the old iconic theme from the original, it’s often only for a few seconds and what’s worse is it’s often played at the most in-opportune moments. Not the case here, they knew the original score worked so why mess with it in the remake? The fact it is so old-fashioned just adds to the mood which this film is filled to the brim with.
Rewatchability – 4.5
I first saw this back in high school and it was an early horror film that I actually liked. So like some of the other TBT Reviews I’ve done, I’m speaking from personal experience about it being very re-watchable. Especially with the spoofs on “The Simpsons” which I’m sure still attract many to see it for the first time and re-watch it.