“A type like that is an animal — so you’ve got to fight him like an animal.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
We’re shown exactly what kind of a self-centered bastard Mitchum is during the opening sequence, as he jostles a woman carrying a stack of books, and walks right past her rather than stopping to help her pick them up. Later, an encounter between Mitchum and a “loose” woman (Barrie Chase) he picks up at a bar — then attacks so viciously she’s scared to say a word to the authorities — is used to excellent effect, indicating to us exactly the level of violence and sexual terror Mitchum is capable of inflicting; while the “attack” itself isn’t shown explicitly, the way in which director J. Lee Thompson shows both the terrifying moments beforehand, and Chase’s brutalized appearance after, are enough to convince us that Mitchum is someone of whom to be very, very scared. Meanwhile, Bernard Herrmann provides an effectively creepy film score, and accomplished DP Sam Leavitt’s b&w cinematography is consistently atmospheric.
With all of this said, I personally find Cape Fear too disturbing a film to recommend as more than a “once-must” thriller. While the entire story is told remarkably effectively, who wants to subject themselves to this kind of vicarious torture more than once? I know there are horror fans who live for the opportunity to exist with their hearts perpetually in their throats; but the type of menace offered up here is simply too freaky for my blood. The basic premise of the screenplay is that the law won’t — or can’t — protect citizens from an uncommitted crime, no matter how obvious the threat. To that end, as noted by Richard Scheib, Cape Fear is notable as “the first of a subgenre of films that placed the nuclear family and the values of ordinary American decency up against a wall”, with “direct echoes… found in films like Straw Dogs (1971) [and] Dirty Harry (1971).” While it may be astonishing to see Peck — starring as a pacifist lawyer in the same year’s To Kill a Mockingbird — resort to violence to protect his own family, one seriously can’t blame him.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: