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CAPE FEAR

For Hicksflicks.com, Jan. 31, 2014

One of the best, scariest movies of the early 1960s is not a horror movie, per se, and it helps make the case that the most effective big-screen fright flicks are those involving people with whom we can readily identify in situations that are not all that far afield from our own experiences.

The film is "Cape Fear" (1962), with two big stars as unforgettable characters — Gregory Peck is Sam Bowden, a Southern lawyer and grounded family man, and Robert Mitchum is Max Cady, a convicted rapist who blames Peck for the eight years he spent in prison.

When Mitchum suddenly arrives in Peck's town, he begins to intimidate the counselor — and his wife (Polly Bergen) and daughter — first in a manner that is subtle and, to the family, quite unsettling. But it gradually escalates to mounting terror.

And a new Blu-ray upgrade is reason enough to remind you of a chilling thriller that has been buffed up so that it looks absolutely gorgeous with its stark black-and-white cinematography enhancing the film's sense of building dread.

Director J. Lee Thompson's work in the 1950s and '60s was hit and miss, but just before "Cape Fear" he helmed "The Guns of Navarone" (1961). By the 1970s and especially the '80s, however, Thompson was turning out nothing but schlock, mostly blood-and-guts Charles Bronson thrillers.

"Cape Fear" is unquestionably a career best for Thompson, and a high water mark for Peck and Mitchum, both of whom have more classics under their respective belts than we can list here. Although it is worth noting that Peck's role is not all that dissimilar to his lawyer in "To Kill a Mockingbird," released during the same year, and Mitchum's echoes his mad preacher in "The Night of the Hunter" (1955).

And, by the way, this film is miles better than Martin Scorsese's sleazed-up 1991 remake.