Cape Fear (1991)

Cape Fear (1991) — Well well, I watched the 1962 suspense classic Cape Fear the other day and what should I see on cable later on than Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake?  There is much to like and some other things not to like in the more modern update.  Robert DeNiro takes over for Robert Mitchum in the role of Max Cady [incidentally Mitchum cameos as the police lieutenant played by Martin Balsam in the original (additionally Balsam cameos as a judge)].  I do hold to a philosophy that you should evaluate a movie on its own merits and not compare it to source material, but watching both versions within a couple days I feel compelled to seize the opportunity.  Mitchum was better.  He was so calm and unflappable that it was terrifying.  DeNiro plays Cady as a very different monster.  Just as clever and calculating but he seems more like a feral beast barely being contained by a facade of affability.  It’s a good characterization, I just happen to prefer Mitchum’s.  On the other hand DeNiro’s southern accent is very annoying at first (though you get used to it and forget about it after a while).  Nick Nolte takes over for Gregory Peck in the role of Sam Bowden, the lawyer Cady chooses to torment (Peck incidentally has a cameo as Cady’s slick lawyer).  The remake’s Bowden is more interesting.  While Peck’s character in the original testified against Cady in an assault case, Nolte’s was Cady’s lawyer who deliberately withheld evidence to sabotage his guilty client.  This does add a layer of moral complexity not found in the original.  It also dilutes some of the impact when Bowden is forced outside the bounds of the law.  All in all, it makes for a more interesting character though.  Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis play Bowden’s family, who are Cady’s intended targets.  The way Cady goes after Bowden’s daughter (Lewis) is somewhat more frightening in the age of sexual predators.  The 1991 movie, just by virtue of the times, gets to go places the 1962 movie doesn’t get to but it doesn’t make it better.  In the original they never once use the word “rape” but the threat feels so much more real than it does in Scorsese’s film.  The film works very well as a suspense flick (I mean have you ever seen a bad Scorsese movie?) drawing from not only 1962’s Cape Fear, but also Night of the Hunter, and the oeuvre of Alfred Hitchcock.  But J. Lee Thompson’s movie was a classic, something Scorsese’s doesn’t quite achieve.

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