Thursday, December 31, 2009

cape fear: a triumph of departments

J. Lee Thompson's 1962 film is perhaps not as well known to a newer generation of film-goers as the remake directed by Martin Scorsese. This is quite a shame, because the film's a very effective thriller boasting some excellent acting, a creepy score by Bernard Herrmann (whose rejected score for Hitchcock's Torn Curtain adorned Scorsese's remake), great cinematography and sharp editing. I had watched the remake first and it's interesting to see the differences. Being more familiar with Scorsese's oeuvre now, I can see why the key players in the remake are morally unsteady (there are no clear good and bad guys); I can also see how the intense religious baggage (tattoos, quotations from the Bible) of De Niro's interpretation of Max Cady fit perfectly. The original black and white thriller, however, succeeds on its own merits, which, thankfully, are different from those of the remake. Max Cady is clearly sadistic and evil while Max Bowden is, for the most part, a diluted version of Atticus Finch. It's a clear case of good versus evil (with an obvious outcome). Given the inevitability of the proceedings, the excellent writing and performances lend each scene its modicum of suspense and dread. The film also succeeds by implying a lot without either saying or showing much (the word "rape" is never uttered and yet its spectre looms large; a lot of the violence is suggested and not shown, although the film is not completely without violence). The influence of Hitchcock is evident and I wonder if the Psycho house was just a coincidence because this was a Universal release. Given the film's effectiveness, it's hard to believe that it was a financial failure when it was released in 1962 -- perhaps the implied extent of Cady's obsession with Bowden's teenage daughter left people too uneasy for comfort.

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