Starring: Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Running Time: 106 mins
Cape Fear is an American film about a lawyer whose family is ruthessly stalked by a man he once helped to put in jail.
A strikingly disturbing film for its time, Cape Fear is a riveting yet powerfully menacing watch. It blends crime, legal drama and psychological thrills brilliantly, all the while creating an atmosphere of incredible suspense, as events snowball into a nightmare.
There’s a lot that makes Cape Fear such a captivating watch, but it’s the work of director J. Lee Thompson that really ties it all together. On the surface, the story could play out as a simple crime thriller, following a family as they’re stalked ruthlessly by an ex-convict.
Yet as the story blends with detailed legal drama and powerful psychological thrills, Thompson lends the film an atmosphere of disturbing menace that makes it so much more than just another crime story.
As events snowball throughout, the film builds suspense brilliantly, all the while taking you deeper and deeper into a nightmarish world of real-life terror. The story’s focus on psychopathy might be reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, but where that film is a chilling and theatrical horror, Cape Fear hits disturbingly close to home.
With clever writing and directing that allows the film to work within the censorship of the time and still offer up something far grittier, there are some truly horrifying moments here, as the film gives an unrelenting portrayal of evil, yet without ever explicitly showing you the horror that unfolds.
In that, there’s a terrifying element of mystery at play, almost as if the truth of the criminal’s actions are too horrible to even show. Of course, what happens is clear in context, but Cape Fear is hugely impressive in its ability to deliver the same, and arguably more terror while shying away from graphic or explicit techniques.
The film is a slow burner, but the suspense, mystery and snowballing effect of the screenplay and atmosphere give it a core of bubbling energy that makes it entirely captivating to watch.
And finally, the performances from Gregory Peck and especially Robert Mitchum are incredible. Peck is the likable, assured hero that he’s so often played, and his charisma and stature in the film makes him the perfect protagonist to stand behind in a battle of wits against a horrifying enemy.
But Robert Mitchum, as the stalker, is the icing on the cake here. His performance isn’t of a stereotypically unsettling, mysterious vein, but it’s rather his brazen confidence and callousness in the face of his victims that makes him so scary.
Along with an astute eye for detail and the workings of the law, Mitchum proves an infuriating nemesis throughout, making his actions all the more terrifying, and the fight against him all the more intense.
Overall, I thought Cape Fear was fantastic. It might not be the easiest watch, with surprisingly dark, disturbing elements for its time, but thanks to fantastic directing and clever writing, the film takes on a powerfully menacing and suspenseful air. And bolstered by two brilliant leading performances, Cape Fear is a magnetic, nail-biting watch. So, that’s why I’m giving it an 8.0.