Cape Fear (1991)


Who’s the madder Max, Mitchum or De Niro?

Martin Scorsese adored Cape Fear, but he didn’t want to remake it.

“The original is a perfect B-film, a perfect film noir. You can’t do that again. It was a statement made at that time for that culture.” He’s dead right. When J Lee Thompson’s black-and-white thriller was released, the New York Times quaintly warned “Don’t take the children.”

Getting under the audience’s skin, Robert Mitchum plays a ex-con who harasses Gregory Peck’s family, kills his dog and leers obscenely at his prepubescent daughter.

For ’62 it was shocking (shame the no-extras disc misses the opportunity for some historical context). You can imagine 20-year-old Marty sitting in the audience, sensing the times were a-changing.

Scorsese’s remake, greenlit after Robert De Niro badgered his old friend into it, comes from a less innocent era. It replaces the good vs evil set-up with endless shades of grey.

No upstanding hero, Nick Nolte’s shady lawyer cheats on wife Jessica Lange and loses the respect of blossoming teenage daughter Juliette Lewis before being pulled apart by De Niro’s prison-tattooed thug.

An excellent 80-minute Making Of (familiar from the old DVD release) reveals how Scorsese amps up the sexual threat. But despite the remake’s moral murkiness, it’s the original that resonates. Mitchum’s hipster rapist isn’t just a B-movie villain.

He’s the first foreshock in the sexual earthquake that shook ’60s whitebread America to its core.

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