Cape Fear (1962)

Cape Fear (1962), directed by J. Lee Thompson.

After eight years in prison for rape and assault, a violent ex-con is looking for revenge against the man who put him there. A masculine hulk of sadism and craft, he wages a campaign of terror with blood-curdling threats against the wife and daughter.

As a thriller this is the real deal. It starts quickly and never lets up. The genre is "let's terrify the women with sexual menaces" while the husband, stalwart and capable as he is, suffers agonies as how to protect them.

You could legitimately call this "Hitchcockian" in the Psycho (1960) sense of terror:

In Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum we have two powerhouse actors of that era in an unforgettable face-off. Peck picked out the story and produced the film, but he knew that Mitchum would be the star.

Mitchum's performance is one for the record books: unbelievably scary, he seems to inhabit the role.

I haven't seen much of Polly Bergen but she seems very natural in her role as the wife. Much of her sweaty egg-splatter encounter with Mitchum was improvised and she said there was "no acting required", it was really wrenching and terrifying.

Worthy contributions by Martin Balsam and Telly Savalas. Lori Martin is fine as the daughter, although the director wanted Hayley Mills, who he had discovered for Tiger Bay (1959), but she was booked up with Disney.

I want to make particular note of Barrie Chase, the woman Cady brutalizes. She was a dancer who had only small acting parts and deserved more. Her mute, haunted suffering is one of the creepiest scenes in movies. Her shock and pain, the way she moves: they can't say it, but I'm sure we're supposed to be thinking forcible sodomy.

Normal, decent society is still on top here and worth defending. The Martin Scorsese remake is set in an entirely different moral universe.

Available on Blu-ray with a very pleasing image. ClassicFlix has it, Netflix doesn't.