It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and I to break down another cinematic original and its remake. Last month’s switch-up felt a bit uncomfortable, so we went back to our original ways—Catie reviews the original and I take on the remake. This month we discuss Cape Fear.
Usually, I include Catie’s Homeade Summary that applies to both films. But this time, I tweaked it just a bit to fit the 1991 release:
Sam Bowden is a small town attorney who has always relied on the legal system to dole out justice.
Max Cady is a violent sociopath just released from prison after serving a fourteen year sentence for rape.
Cady blames Bowden for the years he lost in prison, and he’s ready to serve up some revenge. He stalks the family, poisons the dog, and moves in on all of the women in Bowden’s life.
But, in the eyes of the law, Bowden can’t prove Cady has done anything. Cady has been careful to do everything but break the law.
Sam Bowden decides it’s time to make his own justice in order to stop Max Cady from destroying his family…and getting away with it.
Anytime a studio attempts to remake a classic, like it did the 1962 Cape Fear starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, they must hire the same caliber star-power. Amblin Entertainment and Martin Scorsese did just that…
First, let’s talk about the character of Sam Bowden, played by Nick Nolte. Sam is a lawyer in the small town of New Essex, North Carolina. He’s married to Leigh (Jessica Lange) and they have a fifteen year old daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis). The Bowden family seems happy in their new home, despite Dani’s normal teenage rebellion that lands her in summer school.
Sam, on the other hand, is happy for a different reason—he has a budding relationship on the side with a woman from the District Attorney’s office. I personally found it difficult to like the patriarch in this movie—he has misrepresented a client (Cady, but more on that below), even if it was years ago; he intends to cheat on his wife, even if he hasn’t consummated the affair just yet; and he’s as arrogant as all get out.
Now, let’s talk about the character of Max Cady, played by Robert De Niro. As always, De Niro perfects his portrayal of the crazed and vengeful Cady, angry for spending years in prison when there was evidence that potentially might have lightened his sentence. He uses his time in jail to learn to read and fight his own appeals… and to perfect his body art.
After his release, he focuses all of his new-found knowledge on seeking revenge against the public defender who cheated him out of a fair trial. He travels to New Essex, hunts down Sam Bowden, and plays an evil game of cat and mouse while planning his ultimate vengeance—raping Bowden’s wife and daughter.
And let me just say, there is nothing quite as creepy as a muscled-up De Niro (rumors say he worked his way down to four percent body fat for this role), hanging upside-down on a workout bar, and smiling with his mischievous grin as he talks his way into Danielle’s school day…
Catie mentions the 1962 film was controversial for its time; I wouldn’t so much say the remake was controversial, but it was dark (literally and figuratively; at times the cinematography flashed from color to x-ray or night-vision-like images), inappropriate (theater scene between Cady and Danielle), and disgusting (the “cheek” scene, for those who have already seen the movie).
As with any film, or at least it should be true of every movie, the dialogue is strong—particularly with the element of foreshadowing.
Sam to his wife… “He’s not going to do anything. He just got out of prison. He doesn’t want to go right back.”
Cady to Sam… “You’re gonna learn about loss.”
And then there’s the occasional line that makes you laugh, or at least say, “Huh?”
“Debauchery—it’s a three syllable word.”
Um, no; it’s not.
Then there’s the music, and much like Psycho (last months’ review), the score is creepy…
While I can’t attest to whether or not the remake is better than the original—because I shamefully haven’t seen the older of the two—the film did feature three stars from the 1962 classic: Gregory Peck, the original Sam Bowden, plays Cady’s attorney in the remake; Robert Mitchum, the original Cady, plays a police officer ; and Martin Balsam, the original Police Chief, plays a judge . It says a great deal when the originals will come back and play a small part in a new version of a very successful film from their past—doesn’t it?
Even though I can’t claim the remake is the better of the two, Scorsese’s film is worth seeing—even if it’s for the always enjoyable Robert De Niro and young Juliette Lewis. I vaguely remember seeing the movie in the early ‘90s when it was a new release, but I couldn’t help but smile at the teenage pop culture references used in the film when I watched it recently—like Danielle’s Swatch telephone, the Jane’s Addiction music video, and the music of Guns N’ Roses.
Cape Fear is a great psychological thriller. I mean, what’s worse than fearing for your own life? Watching those around you suffer for your own actions…
What do you think? Have you seen either the original or the remake of Cape Fear? If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why? If you haven’t, do you want to? I’d love to hear from you!