Cape Fear (1962) – A Movie Review

“Cape Fear” is a psychological thriller starring Robert Mitchum as ex-convict, Max Cady, looking for revenge against the man who put him in prison eight years before for rape.  Gregory Peck plays Sam Bowden Cady’s target.  But Cady’s real targets are Bowden’s wife Peggy and daughter Nancy.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Cady shows up in the small southern town where Sam lives and begins threatening his family in a veiled way.  Sam is an attorney and a friend of the town sheriff Mark Dutton played by Martin Balsam.  Dutton agrees to investigate Cady but the clever psychopath has carefully planned his campaign in a way that makes him immune to the local law enforcement.  He has a lawyer in tow who threatens the police with a harassment suit if they continue rousting him for flimsy charges.

But when his family dog is poisoned, Sam begins to panic.  He tries to buy Cady off with a $20,000 payoff but Cady explicitly tells him that what he wants is to attack Peggy and Nancy.  There are several incidents where Cady stalks the Bowdens and at one point Sam attacks Cady but he isn’t goaded into fighting back.

Sam pays a private detective to follow Cady looking for him to commit something criminal by which to force him to leave.  And he does do something heinous.  He takes up with a woman he meets at a bar and at a hotel that they go to for a sexual tryst Cady ends up brutally beating and sexually abusing her.  When the police, and Sam show up at the hotel the woman refuses to press charges.  She says that even if Cady goes to jail for ten years, she fears that when he got out, he would kill her.

Now desperate, Sam pays three thugs to beat Cady into a state where he would leave on his own.  Instead, Cady beats the three men till they needed hospitalization and one of them confesses that Sam paid them.  Cady’s lawyer reports Sam to the Bar Association for criminal behavior.

With no possibility of the sheriff for help, Sam thinks up a plan to trap Cady using his wife and daughter as bait.  He pretends to go to Atlanta to answer charges before the Bar Association while he sends his family to a remote location on the Cape Fear River on a houseboat.  But in reality, he arrives shortly after the family along with a deputy sheriff that agrees to help him guard the family from Cady.

Cady follows the private detective who was meant to lure him into the trap.  But Cady is too clever for the trappers and he manages to drown the deputy sheriff and by the time Sam has discovered this, Cady has menaced Peggy and abducted Nancy.  Sam arrives just in time to save Nancy but Cady knocks the gun out of Sam’s hand and then almost drowns him before Sam turns the tables and strikes Cady in the head with a rock.  Sam has time to get Nancy to run away before Cady returns with a club to finish him off.  At the last second Sam recovers his gun and shoots Cady.  Badly wounded Cady tells him, “Finish it.  I don’t care.”  But Sam taunts him with the news that instead of a clean death Cady would be locked up like an animal for the rest of his life for the murder he committed.  The movie ends with the Bowdon family leaving Cape Fear on a police launch headed for home.

This movie is a tour de force by Mitchum.  The rest of the cast is satisfactory but the picture belongs to him.  Watching his portrayal, I could easily believe that he actually was a degenerate criminal in real life.  He’s just that convincing.  Mitchum’s portrayal and the sense of helplessness that his plan instils in the Bowdens provides the audience with an atmosphere fraught with menace.  The movie provides effective thrills and a villain that everyone can love to hate.  Highly recommended for fans of suspense films.

How the West Was Won (1962) – A Movie Review

“How the West Was Won” is a Western extravaganza with enough Hollywood stars for five films.  It consists of five vignettes that are strung together out of the fortunes of a family from the East caught up in the settling of the western frontier.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Karl Malden is Zebulon Prescott, a farmer in New York State who becomes disgusted with his rocky unproductive land and sells it to go west with his wife Rebecca, (Agnes Moorehead) and two daughters Eve (Caroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds).  Along the way they meet fur trapper Linus Rawlings (Jimmy Stewart) who saves them from some nefarious river pirates led by Col. Jeb Hawkins (Walter Brennan) but finally Zebulon and Rebecca are killed going over the rapids on their raft and Rawlings reluctantly gives up his wandering ways to marry Eve and start a farm by the river.

In the next vignette, Lilith has become a show girl and does a song and dance act in St. Louis.  A messenger informs her that a former admirer has left her a gold mine in California.  She joins another woman Agatha Clegg (Thelma Ritter) in a wagon train headed west.

When gambler/fortune hunter Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) overhears her good fortune, he follows her to California.  At first reluctantly and then gratefully, after he saves her life during an Indian attack, Lilith partners with Cleve.

But when they get to California, they discover that Lilith’s gold mine is played out.  Cleve leaves Lilith in the lurch to pursue his gambler’s life.  She receives a proposal of marriage from wealthy rancher Roger Morgan (Robert Preston) but rejects him because she doesn’t want a conventional life as a wife and mother.  But when Cleve overhears Lilith singing on a river boat, he realizes that they will both be happiest if they marry and combine their two adventurous lives together into a partnership.  And they do.

In the next story the Civil War has begun.  To dramatize this we even have a brief look at Raymond Massey portraying Abraham Lincoln.  Eve’s son, Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard) wants to follow his father into battle on the side of the Union.  Eve tearfully says goodbye and Zeb is swept along by the tides of war.

During this episode he manages to save General Grant (Harry Morgan) and General Sherman (John Wayne) from a Confederate soldier who was trying to convince Zeb to desert.  After the war Zeb returns home to find that both his parents are dead.  He leaves the farm to his brother and heads west as a cavalry soldier.

In the next vignette Zeb is a cavalry officer tasked with helping the Union Pacific Railroad cross the Great Plains.  The ruthless railroad boss Mike King (Richard Widmark) is angering the Indian tribes by laying down the track through the Indian hunting grounds.  Zeb has help from buffalo hunter Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda), an old friend of his father.

They convince the Indians to accept the latest route but finally when settlers start filling up the area the Indians revolt and we watch as they stampede a herd of buffalo through the railroad worksite.  Disgusted with the railroad’ treachery, Zeb and Jethro leave for happier circumstances farther west.

In the last episode, we see Lilith as an old woman in San Francisco.  Cleve has died and an auction is proceeding to liquidate their estate to pay off debts.  All that will remain will be a ranch in Arizona that she hopes to retire to with her nephew Zeb Rawlings and his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) and children.

Zeb was a sheriff and while meeting his aunt at the train in Arizona he catches sight of an outlaw Charlie Grant (Eli Wallach) that Zeb put in prison years ago.  He figures out that Grant means to rob the train when the next gold shipment is aboard.  Zeb recruits his old friend Marshal Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb) to go with him to guard the train.

The train robbery scene involves Grant and eight or ten of his men boarding the train and battling Zeb and Lou as they fight them off with rifles and hand guns.  In the ensuing violence the train is battered to pieces and finally derails in catastrophic fashion but Zeb puts a final bullet in Charlie Grant.  Then he returns to take up a peaceful life as rancher with his family.

The movie ends with a panoramic view of California including Los Angeles freeways and the golden Gate Bridge with a stirring speech by the narrator (Spencer Tracy) about the epic adventure that was the taming of the west.

So, you get the picture.  This is an extravaganza.  They put every actor they had into it.  I’ve even left out a few other for the sake of brevity.  So, what do I think?  As far as spectacle, the scene of the raft on the rapids and the buffalo stampede are exciting and in the wide screen of a theater must have been fun for the audience.  Some of the landscapes are truly beautiful.  The plot is very straightforward.  It covers the various stages of the westward expansion of the United States with a personal story.  The performances vary from competent to perfunctory.  This isn’t high drama.  I would restrict my recommendation to saying if you’re in the mood for an epic western movie (and you have three hours to spare) this movie would be fine.