Out of the Past: The Films of Robert Mitchum

Cape Fear

J. Lee ThompsonUSA106 minutes1961B&WEnglish

Feb 3
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    Rod Steiger had wanted to play vengeful psychopath Max Cady in this classic suspenser (in which case none of the southern Florida scenery would have been immune from chewing), but Robert Mitchum got the part and gave one of the greatest performances of his career, an evil twin to his unhinged preacher in The Night of the Hunter. Released from prison after serving eight years for rape, Cady sets out for revenge on Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), the lawyer who put him in the slammer. Terrorizing Bowden's family whilst slyly staying within the bounds of the law, Cady turns the straight-laced lawyer's own legal machinery against him. Bowden finally decides to lay a trap for Cady by putting his wife and daughter aboard a houseboat on the lonely Cape Fear River and waiting for the stalker to pounce; the result is some of the most nail-gnawing suspense in all cinema. "Suspenseful and very frightening.... J. Lee Thompson directs at a clip, until the crawl toward the bayou climax, where the minutes feel like hours, and your heart sits in your throat" (James Monaco).