Cape Fear (US, 1961)

Truly a disturbing force

When I first saw the original version of Cape Fear I thoroughly enjoyed it, however in this re-viewing I was struck by Gregory Peck’s woodenness. Indeed, the Christmas tree was giving an Oscar-winning performance in comparison. As a film that dramatises a violent disruption of an all-American patriarchal family, and there doesn’t come many more disturbing forces than Robert Mitchum’s Max Cady, the imperturbability of the said patriarch is entirely unconvincing. Even at the film’s climax, Peck’s perfect father-lawyer can still tell daughter to ‘run and hide’ before returning to the fray.

I’m not sure the degree to which this was purposeful. Could it be that the film means to say that the stolid head-of-the-household (who comments near the start that one shouldn’t teach females to tell the time because later they will hold it against you) should be that indestructable or couldn’t Peck do mental disintegration in the face of Cady’s threat?

There are still some terrific scenes; that is, all those with Mitchum in. When he threatens the ‘little wife’ by crushing an egg, and then caressing her chest were the albumen had split, is truly horrible. The scene where Barrie Chase, as the ‘drifter’ picked up by Cady, is asked to testify after being raped, is also notable.

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