One film, two versions: Cape Fear

Most of the time, the news of a remake fills me with dread. A film I loved and cherished is being remade, and not only do I fail to understand why, I generally view it as ‘Cinematic Sacrilege’. In 1991, I read that Marin Scorsese was about to release a new version of ‘Cape Fear’, starring Robert De Niro. As much as I had admired the work of both director and actor for some time, I really could’t see the point.

‘Cape Fear’ was an outstanding thriller, made in 1962 by J. Lee Thompson, with excellent music by Bernard Hermann. Filmed in stark black and white, it featured a central performance from Robert Mitchum that was one of his best ever. And he was in good company, with Gregory Peck, Poly Bergen, Telly Savalas, and Martin Balsam in the cast. The story is simple, yet chillingly effective. Rapist Max Cady (Mitchum) is released from prison, and he is bearing a grudge. That hatred is directed at the man who had him convicted, lawyer Sam Bowden. (Peck) He stalks the family, making them uneasy, and fearing for the safety of their 14 year old daughter. The events begin to spiral out of control, as Sam can get no proof that Cady is responsible for anything he appears to have done to them.

Things build to a climax when Cady follows the family to the isolated spot known as Cape Fear, where they have escaped to hide out on a boat. Sam suspects he will be there, and lies in wait, assisted by a local policeman. But not everything turns out the way he had hoped. I saw this film in my teens, and thought it was excellent. I had seen it against since, and enjoyed it just as much, even knowing the outcome.

Nonetheless, and despite my trepidation, I was tempted by the 1991 film. It starred De Niro as Max Cady, Nick Nolte as Sam, and Jessica Lange as his wife. Their daughter was played by the superb and much underrated Juliette Lewis, then there was Joe Don Baker, and the nice touch of roles for Mitchum, Peck, and Balsam too. It seemed to me that Scorsese was attempting more of a tribute than a straight remake, so I paid my money, and went into the cinema to see it.

And was I glad I did!

The film was updated perfectly. Nothing in the story was changed, though Max Cady was more like a con we might expect to see in the 90s, and very terrifying. Everyone stayed true to the spirit of the original, and I enjoyed every minute of the film. The ending was the same, the settings little changed, and the film overall was just as good as the earlier one. Scorsese had accomplished something rare indeed. Not only had he managed to deliver a remake as good as the first film, in many respects, it was actually more exciting, and more involving. It’s still worth watching both though.

49 thoughts on “One film, two versions: Cape Fear

  1. Great post πŸ™‚ Personally I love both versions, but I will agree that Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake was more complex. Did you know that Freddie Francis did the cinematography for it? Anyway, keep up the great work as always πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I only saw Scorsese’s version but now I want to see the original as well. De Niro was fantastic in this role (as usual) I still get goosebumps when remembering that crazy look in his eyes.


  3. I was hoping that you would spotlight these films. As you stated, both are quality films. I’m a big Gregory Peck fan and an even bigger Robert Mitchum fan. That said, I prefer the remake. To me the characterizations are more realistic in the Scorsese version and the female parts are more fleshed out and interesting. De Niro was in peak form, one of the most chilling villains in cinema, I think.

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  4. Thank you for the information Pete! Thrillers are nice, but there i always have difficulties to love the older version. Most of the time the remake has much more visual and also better sound effects. But here i think it was a really good editor too. Michael

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  5. I still won’t do it. If I liked a movie, then that’s how I want to remember it. I think it’s high-time for Hollywood to start getting some imagination back and quite the sequels and remakes. Before you know it, we’ll have “Grandson of Rocky Wins First Bout in Kindergarten” πŸ™‚

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  6. Yes…another one that I have seen both versions of 😊 And both were honestly very good. I can’t even decide which of these is better. You are so right about Juliette Lewis by the way. She is highly underrated (and it’s a shame you don’t see her very often anymore these days 😒).
    Can’t wait to see which movies you are going to be featuring next 😊

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  7. Pete, I remember seeing the original “Cape Fear” many years ago (probably on television), and then renting the remake from a video store. The production values are better in the remake, but I much prefer the actors in the original.

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  8. I love both versions, too. Do I remember correctly that Mitchum appeared in the 1991 version? Wasn’t he the lawyer? I may be way off.
    Anyway, I thought the newer version was very creepy with the negative color switch and DeNiro’s scary performance. Juliette Lewis was superb.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Terrific review Pete, and I agree: this remake “modernized” the story without changing the tone or style of the original – it respected the material, and the acting and direction were both superb.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pete like you I love films. In my case I am trying to put together a downloadable collection of the best WWII films. However one still remains unobtainable as a paid download. I refer to the 1965 original version of Battle of the Bulge starring Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews, Pier Angeli, Barbra Werl, George Montgomery, Ty Hardin, Charles Bronson, Hans Christian Blech, Werner Peters, James McArther and Telly Savalis! Neither Amazon or Netflixs feature it in downloadable form. Yet they do have every other WWII film from the same decade????

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can only find it on a used (guaranteed) DVD on Amazon, Jack.
      I have seen it at the cinema on release, and since on TV, but so much of the supposed ‘winter battle’ footage was shot in Spain, that many of the tank battle scenes are lacking in authenticity, to say the least. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even so Pete, there is no getting away from the fact that its still a damned good film. As for the Spanish connection, even when it came to the film Battle of Britain Richard Attenborough borrowed several Spanish made ME109’s don’t forget. πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

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