Take 3: Cape Fear (1962) Review

Happy Halloween to all my followers and readers! Like last year, I am participating in the Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon! For the first event, I reviewed 1953’s House of Wax, a movie I enjoyed. This time around, I’m reviewing the 1962 film, Cape Fear! When it comes to choosing which movie to watch around Halloween-time, the usual selections with fictious monsters, ghost stories, and haunted tales are preferred. But in my opinion, the most effective “scary movies” are the ones that involve real-life situations. In Cape Fear, a former prisoner seeks revenge against the lawyer who testified against him. This synopsis alone sounds more realistic and terrifying than even those scary movies that are considered “classic”. But is this movie as terrifying as it sounds? The only way to find out is if you keep reading!

Cape Fear (1962) poster created by Melville Productions, Talbot Productions, and Universal Pictures

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Before watching Cape Fear, I had seen and reviewed Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. One of the best aspects of that film was Robert Mitchum’s performance. In the 1962 movie, Robert’s portrayal of Max Cady stole the show! As a character, Max was a creepy and gross fellow. This was made possible through Robert’s facial expressions, body language, and dialogue. In Max’s first scene with Sam, there is a twinge of anger in Max’s voice. But his demeanor was controlled by a sense of calm. The combination of anger and calm within Max Cady added to the character’s unsettling nature. Another actor that effectively balanced two emotions was Lori Martin! In a scene that takes place after a family emergency, Lori’s character, Nancy, appears calm. Yet, she can be seen crying as she talks to her mother in an angry tone. Without spoiling anything, Nancy did have a legitimate reason to be both sad and angry. But I found this performance impressive, especially for an actress so young!

I’ve seen and reviewed To Kill a Mockingbird and Amazing Grace and Chuck. Based on these two movies, it seems like Gregory Peck gets type-casted as either a lawyer or a politician. While he portrays a lawyer in Cape Fear, the script emphasized how his character is a family man. Like the aforementioned movies, Gregory carried his character, Sam, with professionalism and classiness. At the same time, he was given plenty of opportunity to express emotion. A great example is when Sam meets Max at a nearby restaurant. As Max is telling his story, Sam grows increasingly angry. This scene highlights the fierce protectiveness of a husband and a father. It also gave a sense of realism to Gregory’s character!

The music: Legendary composer Bernard Herrmann provided the music for Cape Fear. Throughout the film, his signature musical style could be consistently heard. Bernard’s strength is using music to elevate the suspense within a given scene.  At the very beginning of the movie, Max is walking through the town as an ominous tune can be heard in the background. This effectively clued the audience in of what would come later in the story.  It also let the audience know to pay attention to Max. With all that said, the music definitely added something special to the overall project!

The cinematography: I was not expecting the cinematography in Cape Fear to be as memorable as it was! It, honestly, reminded me of pictures directed by Alfred Hitchcock! One of my favorite scenes is when Peggy, Sam’s wife, has a dream about her and Sam. While Peggy is sleeping, ghostly images of her and Sam are presented over the main image. These images reveal their concerns over the movie’s events, as well as emphasize their desire for action. This way of presenting dialogue and character interactions was very interesting. It added a sense of spookiness to an already suspenseful story!

2nd Annual Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon banner created by Kristen of Hoofers and Honeys

What I didn’t like about the film:

An exposition heavy beginning: Within the first twelve minutes of Cape Fear, the audience learns about Sam Bowden, his family, Max Cady, his arrest, and why he was arrested. Personally, I felt this was too much information to present in the film’s beginning. In fact, I was disappointed Max’s secrets were revealed so soon. What the screenwriter should have done was sprinkle this information throughout the story. That way, the audience would have a greater reason to stay invested in the mystery.

Dumb decisions from the characters: After a family emergency involving a dog, Sam warns his wife and daughter of Max’s dangerous nature. He instructs his daughter, Nancy, to only leave school and home with either him or his wife, Peggy. But more often than not, Nancy is left by herself, with Sam and Peggy putting her in a vulnerable position. One example is when Nancy gets out of school to find her mother’s car empty. While waiting in the car, Nancy sees Max and attempts to get away from him. Even though she succeeds in this plan, she ends up getting hit by an oncoming car in the process. I know her parents are human and humans make mistakes. However, these mistakes felt unbelievable after some time.

An unrelated court case: Featured in a few scenes, a court case involving an arthritic patient receiving surgery was addressed in Cape Fear. But the only connection this case had with the rest of the story was Sam as one of the associated lawyers. I wish the case had a more significant reason to be in the film. Maybe it could have something to do with Max’s past crime, with two separate mysteries becoming one. I, honestly, wanted to learn more about that case, but was sadly not given the chance.

Scared audience image created by Katemangostar at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/terrified-friends-watching-horror-movie-in-cinema_1027311.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People image created by Katemangostar – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

As I said in my introduction, the most effective “scary movies” are the ones that involve real-life situations. Even though this is a fictional story, it is effective at being a scarier film! Max Cady is one of the most unsettling characters in film, with Robert Mitchum’s acting abilities highlighting the reason why. Come to think of it, this performance showed a different side to Robert’s talents. Bernard Herrmann’s music added to the scary nature of the story, emphasizing the suspense within the script. But the multiple dumb decisions of the characters took away some from the film’s believability. The beginning of the film was also exposition heavy. However, the overall production felt like an Alfred Hitchcock picture without actually being affiliated with Alfred Hitchcock. With this said, I’d recommend Cape Fear as your next pick for Halloween!

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10

Have you seen Cape Fear? Which movie would you watch on Halloween? Tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen