Whenever I start out planning an Original vs Remake post, I tend to pick films where I have already seen one or the other and then seek out whichever I haven't seen yet. Ages ago, I wrote a list of films with remakes and set out to watch them. Unfortunately I haven’t to suck to the list, apart from Cape Fear. I managed to find a copy of Martin Scorsese’s 1991 version online and watched that one night months ago. I have only just got round to watching the 1962 version directed by J. Lee Thompson.
Cape Fear follows convict, Max Cady, as he released from prison after an 8 year sentence. He arrives in town and immediately begins to follow lawyer, Sam Bowden and his family. Following turns to stalking and intimidation but Max maneuvers are not illegal but enough to out Sam on edge. After a few arrests, Max hires a lawyer to discredit the police department oh his arrests whilst shining a spotlight in Sam's methods. It turns out at the Sam remembers Max as he was his defense lawyer 8 years previous. But Sam, so disgusted by Max's crimes, made it so that he lost the case, now Max is out for revenge. Things escalate when Max attacks and brutally rapes a young woman (Sam colleague in the 1991 version) but the woman refuses to testify due to embarrassment and not wanting to see Max again.
Without the police to help Sam, he hires a private detective to follow Max and also hires 3 men to beat Max up. But Max over powers them and finds out it was Sam. Max’s lawyer then threatens Sam with disbarment, but as Max has openly threatened his daughter and wife, he decides to rid the world of Max once and for all. He takes his family to their house-boat in Cape Fear and pretends to leave them, fooling Max, who has followed that they are alone. Max appears and at first threatens to rape Sam’s wife but instead goes after the teenage daughter. Sam arrives just in time and fights Max.
In the 1962 version, Sam captures Max and it is presumed that Max goes back to prison. But, in the 1991 version, Sam manages to kill Max in a dramatic way.
Starting backwards, the 1991 version of the film, which I saw first, was dramatic but felt dated. It felt like the film wanted to imitate the 60s, which the previous film was made in, but also was updated for the time. Danielle Bowden, the teenager is not doing well as school and is forced to take summer classes. She meets Cady as he pretends to be her drama teacher and he manages to convince her to suck his finger in a seductive manner. Leigh Bowden, Sam’s wife, works from home, she is a ‘modern woman’. The two lead male roles felt strange to me. Nick Nolte played Sam Bowden, who I found extremely uncharismatic. I really didn’t care about his opinions and what he had to say. This made it difficult to stay focused. Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis did well to keep my attention when they were on screen though. Robert De Niro as Max Cady was quite terrifying and it wasn’t the tattoos or the greasy hair or his the way he spoke. It was his ability to flip from seemingly charming guy to raging maniac. He was also quite repulsive, which is what the character is meant to be. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think that he was miscast like Nolte.
The 1962 version, which I wish I had seen first, felt like a worn out record that went on for too long. Gregory Peck as Sam Bowden was as uncharismatic as Nolte was which was disappointing, as I had hoped that the original film would have had more of a punch. But, Robert Mitchum was well cast as Max Cady. He was disgusting and sly and played the part so well. Although he never really became overly violent, he gave the impression, along with the music, that he had, was and could do terrible things.
Cape Fear, to be honest, wasn't an obvious choice at first, even though both films boast an impressive cast and director. It’s quite difficult to compare the two films as they are almost identical in how the story pans out. The differences are obviously the ending and the change of character of Lori Davis and Diane Taylor. The former was a colleague, who has a crush on Bowden and after being rejected by him, meets Cady in a bar and has sex with him. She is then violently raped and beaten and left too afraid to testify. The change from the 1962 film, where Diane is just a women Cady picks up and rapes and beats her, is that Bowden knows the victim. Cady is threatening him, showing this is what he’ll do to his wife and daughter. Both women are used as plot device to show what Cady is capable of and shaming these women for having sex with someone they hardly know. It’s a terrible device.
I expected the Scorsese film to be violent, which it was in a few scenes, but the violence that was implied and spoke of in the 1962 version was intense and had more of an effect. The endings, in both films, are when Cady hunts down the Bowdens and verbally threatens the wife and daughter before fighting it out with Sam. Neither film has the ‘Hollywood ending’ as it would not work in this story. The 1991 version has a strange conclusion with Cady dead and the family on the riverbank. The 1962 version stops abruptly, Sam gives a speech and it cuts to the family, all in blankets, in a boat being driven down the river. But it all happens in a minute, which felt rushed.
I didn’t enjoy either film to be honest and so my conclusion will be short. If I had to pick the better of the two, I would pick the 1962 Cape Fear. Robert Mitchum is a difficult act to follow and the film was cleverly constructed to make things seem far worse than what the audience were allowed to see, this had a bigger impact. I hope I haven’t stopped any one from seeing either film but this wasn’t my cup of tea.