CAPE FEAR (1962)
Article 4605 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Featuring Gregory Pick, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen
What it is: Thriller
An ex-con, released after serving eight years on an assault charge, blames the lawyer who witnessed his attack for his incarceration. He begins to subtly stalk the lawyer, using the knowledge he gained in prison about law to keep himself on the right side of it. Will the lawyer be able to defend himself and his family, and will he himself break the law in his struggle to defend them?
Given that I’ve covered such marginal thrillers as WAIT UNTIL DARK and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER for this series, I’m not surprised that someone somewhere would consider this movie as belonging to the realm of horror. The biggest argument for its inclusion to the genre is probably the fact that Robert Mitchum plays one very scary and smart sociopath here. Nevertheless, the thematic focus of this one is on the plight of the lawyer; he wants to protect his family, but he can’t get the help of the law until after the sociopath commits a crime, which may be too late. The movie is really about his temptation to break the law by being proactive, and finding a way to remove the threat before it takes action. It’s a nail-biting thriller with substance, and it’s enhanced to two stunning performances from Peck and (especially) Mitchum. The movie was powerful enough that Martin Scorsese would remake it thirty years later; I have seen that one (though it’s been a while), and it doesn’t quite have the impact as this one. My favorite moment in this movie may be the ending; given the theme of the movie and what we know about the characters, it’s just about perfect.