Cape Fear

Robert De Niro as Max Cady in Cape Fear

Robert Mitchum as Max Cady in Cape Fear

It’s compare and contrast time. Max Cady, a psychopath recently out of stir after a long stretch for rape, sets out to terrorise lawyer Sam Bowden who he believes withheld information about his case at the trial which resulted in him going down. The original, directed by cult British director J. Lee Thompson in 1962, starred Robert Mitchum as the avenging psycho (a role he’d perfected in 1955’s Night Of The Hunter) and Gregory Peck as the apparently decent lawyer. Both turn up again in cameos in Martin Scorsese’s remake, in which things aren’t quite so clear cut. This time around Bowden (now played by Nick Nolte) is a lousy lawyer, and a philandering husband to boot, and Cady (Robert De Niro) isn’t just bad, he’s positively evil. The later version amps up the sex, too. Remember the infamous scene where Bowden’s daughter (Juliette Lewis) sucks the finger of Max Cady in the empty school theatre? And of course there’s Scorsese’s wham-bam hurricane-tossed ending. But sex, a big budget and lots of special effects to one side, the consensus seems to have it that Thompson’s is the better film, that drama as stormy as this works best when set in an age of innocence. As well as an elemental good versus evil thrust, Thompson also has Bernard Herrmann’s jangly score to help him along too, plus his instinct for the pace of a scene. Scorsese is, to be fair to him, after something more nuanced. His isn’t a clear-cut world of good v evil – everyone has done something that stinks in his Cape Fear. But does his finessing of moral positions make for a more satisfying, more humane drama, or a less dynamic film? Or both? Coming one year after Goodfellas Scorsese’s Cape Fear was fighting not just Thompson’s film but his own reputation.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Cape Fear (1962) – at Amazon

Cape Fear (1991) – at Amazon

 

Duel in the Sun

Original foyer poster

Martin Scorsese reckons Duel in the Sun was the first film he ever saw and one of the reasons he became a director. It was made in the mid 1940s when David O Selznick was still basking in the glow of Gone with the Wind, in terms of bums on seats the biggest film ever made.

The legendary producer was also feeling pretty pleased with himself at having tempted Alfred Hitchcock to Hollywood, Rebecca and Spellbound being the result of that bit of handiwork.

Selznick was riding high. The stocky fortysomething was also riding a new starlet, 25-year-old Jennifer Jones. In a case of extreme hubris – those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make movie producers – Selznick decided that he was going to make a film to top Gone with the Wind, and simultaneously make his hot girlfriend into a huge star.

So he got King Vidor in as director and cast Jones as a mixed-race orphan girl (“built by the Devil to drive men crazy,” as the poster has it) who finds herself caught between decent Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and his sexually forward brother Lewt (Gregory Peck). It’s a tug of war between head and loins, and there’s no prizes for guessing which wins out, albeit in a torrid, sensationally destructive way (see Gone with the Wind for the template).

The critics called Selznick’s film a hymn to the folly of middle-aged desire, gave it the nickname Lust in the Dust and tried to laugh it off the screen. The public liked it though, but not enough to actually make it profitable – it was at the time the most expensive film ever made.

Fittingly, it’s shot in Technicolor, as every film as loud, lavish, exotic and gloriously camp as this should be.



Duel in the Sun – Watch it/buy it at Amazon


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© Steve Morrissey 2013