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Cape Fear (1962)

Deep in the sweaty, luscious, lascivious South, lawyer Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) finds his relatively tranquil life turbulently disrupted when ex-con Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) sets out to menace, and eventually revenge himself upon, the man he blames for his hard time. Director J. Lee Thompson's vision of this seamy thriller is lean and mean, and a virtual War of the Titans between rock-like good man Peck and the deadly, droop-eyed charm of Mitchum. Peck's Bowden is a man of honor, paralyzed by his beloved law's failure to protect his family, while Mitchum's Cady is quiet and patient, allowing the boiling forces in his heart and mind to simmer feverishly behind a placid, genial facade. As in any movie heading into middle age, there is a share of dated silliness, but technically, Cape Fear is an excellent accomplishment, full of vivid chiaroscuro lighting, superbly planned scenarios of sublimated tensions (including the super-taboo threat of sexual assault on a child), and a few eye-catching visual tricks. Samuel Leavitt's cinematography is gorgeous, and looks stunning in this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that must rank amongst the very best black-and-white DVDs in circulation. Bernard Herrmann's damning theme is terrifically threatening, even if only in its original 2.0 mono incarnation. Included on this Universal's release is a half-hour retrospective featurette including funny and diverting interviews with Peck and director Thompson. Also on board are DVD-ROM features and a photo montage and trailer. Remade in 1991 by Martin Scorsese. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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