Cape Fear 1962 or Cape Fear 1991

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Have you seen these films?

They are both really good and creepy in their own way but what I find so fascinating about them is that they are brilliant examples of social film history.

Because essentially the story is the same; deranged ex-con Max Cady is hell bent on revenge so he stalks and terrorises the family of the lawyer who sent him to prison, Sam Bowden, particularly taking a fancy to Bowden's daughter.  What makes the difference is the 29 years of social change between them.

The original Cape Fear features Gregory Peck (whose production company had bought the rights to the film), as Sam Bowden with Robert Mitchum playing the bad guy Cady.  I'd never thought of Robert Mitchum as creepy until I saw this film, he sets about destroying the Bowden's piece of mind with such calm and precision, it's quite subdued terror.  However, creepy Cady aside, upon its release in America it got poor reviews and audiences.  Nobody liked it much.

But it was when the movie tried to come to England that the controversy started.  The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) were horrified with the film and insisted on so many cuts and so much censorship that it drove (British) director J. Lee Thompson to the point where he could no longer deal with them.  Peck instead had to come to England and smooth things over with the board and he agree to over six minutes worth of cuts to make the film agreeable to film audiences.

Even so, with the 'agreeable' cuts, the film was also greeted in the UK with derision, audiences and critics alike just plain did not like it.

Was it the subject matter?  I think maybe the story was a little beyond what was acceptable in the early 1960s. This appears to be what bothered the BBFC, they were concerned that Cady's sexual designs were on Bowden's daughter, who was scripted as 12 years old in the 1962 version, and not his wife.  I wonder if it would have been more acceptable had he been sexually interested in Bowden's wife instead...probably.

Move forward 29 years and the 1991 version of Cape Fear has Robert de Niro as Max Cady and Martin Scorsese directing, and boy do they turn the film into quite something else.  All the dark malevolence that the 1960s audience had to be protected from is unleashed in this bad boy.  De Niro is absolutely terrifying, I remember going to watch this at the cinema way on back in 1991 and being so petrified I couldn't sleep!

Not only is the devil, in the form of Cady, unleashed but a myriad of social changes are evident in this version.  You go from having a tight knit and twee Bowden family in 1962 to a fractured and broken one in 1991.

Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange seethe at each other across the screen, he's shagging around and their daughter, who is now scripted as a precocious 14 year old is played by the amazing Juliette Lewis, who quite frankly steals the whole darn show.

She is brilliant as the disaffected daughter who is almost complicit in Cady's revenge.  She enjoys the attention she receives from Cady, probably because she get none at home, and nobody, just nobody could forget the sucking finger scene in the school theatre - CREEP-A-RAMA!

As to which film is the better, I could not say.  When the 1991 version was released, a special edition 1962 version was re-issued with all the cuts reinstated and this has since gone on to become a bit of a cult classic.

I like them both, they each have their merits and faults.  It makes for a good movie night though; get them both in, grab some popcorn and a pillow (for hiding behind you fools!!) and enjoy.