The film tells the story of a convicted rapist who, using mostly his newfound knowledge of the law and its numerous loopholes, seeks vengeance against a former public defender whom he blames for his 14-year imprisonment due to purposefully faulty defense tactics used during his trial.
Cape Fear marks the seventh of eight collaborations between Scorsese and De Niro, the others being Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), New York, New York (1977), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983), Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995).
It was originally developed by Steven Spielberg, who eventually decided it was too violent and traded it to Scorsese to get back Schindler’s List, which Scorsese had decided not to make. Spielberg stayed on as a producer, through his Amblin Entertainment, but chose not to be credited personally on the finished film.
Principal Photography began on November 19, 1990. Filming took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the Bowden House & other locations in the area were filmed. The climactic sequence out on the swamp was filmed at John U. Lloyd State Park at Hollywood, Florida. Due to a tropical storm that hit the area where the set was at, the crew had to wait four days for the storm to stop. A 90-foot soundstage was also used to film the boat sequences with the actors in it. To create the storm, a giant fan was used to make the wind blow hard. They also make their own rain that was used. It took four weeks to capture all the special effects & the action sequences on film. After 17 weeks, filming was completed on March 17, 1991.
It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robert De Niro, who lost to Anthony Hopkins for The Silence of the Lambs) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Juliette Lewis, who lost to Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King).
Nick Nolte is taller than Robert De Niro, but for the movie, Nolte lost weight and De Niro developed muscles until De Niro appeared to be the stronger man. De Niro reportedly took his body fat down to four percent. De Niro also paid a doctor $20,000 to grind down his teeth for the role to give the character a more menacing look.
Although a remake of the original Cape Fear, Scorsese’s update is also greatly influenced by another Mitchum-starring film, The Night of the Hunter, in which a religiously fanatical criminal has tattoos on his hands reading “Love and Hate”; Cady’s body is tattooed with various biblical verses such as “vengeance is mine saith the Lord”, and he tells Sam to read the Book of Job (in which the sins of the father will be visited upon the wife and daughter) and so on. Mirroring the long journey downriver in The Night of the Hunter as Mitchum follows the children is the voyage down Cape Fear River in the houseboat in Cape Fear.
The work of Alfred Hitchcock was also influential on the style of Cape Fear. As with the 1962 film version, where director J. Lee Thompson specifically acknowledged Hitchcock’s influence, strove to use Hitchcock’s style, and had Bernard Hermann write the score, Scorsese made his version in the Hitchcock manner, especially through the use of unusual camera angles, lighting and editing techniques. Additionally, Scorsese’s version has opening credits designed by regular Hitchcock collaborator Saul Bass and the link to Hitchcock is cemented by the reuse of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, albeit reworked by Elmer Bernstein. The scene where Cady murders with the piano wire while dressed as the maid Graciella also recalls Hitchcock, specifically the psychosexual crossdressing in female clothing which forms a core theme of Hitchcock’s Psycho (although here Cady merely uses the woman’s clothing as a deceptive disguise).
Cady’s character has educated himself while in prison regarding not just legal procedures, but also literature. In the scene where he lures Danielle to the drama theatre, he references Henry Miller’s trilogy Nexus, Sexus, and Plexus, and later gives her a copy of one of these novels, which for Cady represent his point of view that the daughter is being controlled by her parents and should liberate herself. Danielle is reading Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel and Cady is able to show his familiarity with its themes. Furthermore, during the scene in which Cady is beaten by three men hired by Kersek on Sam’s behalf to put Cady in the hospital, he quotes a 17th-century writer, and in the final scenes on the house boat, Cady frequently refers to the Ninth Circle of Hell, representing Treachery – a concept derived from Dante‘s Divine Comedy, specifically from Dante’s Inferno.
The Great Un-American Classic!
This brutal, violent and suspenseful thriller combines a scorching performance by Robert Deniro, sumptuous location photography, and a powerful script that raises disturbing questions about religion, sex, and class distinctions in our so-called classless society.
At first glance Max Cady seems to be just another creep, a rapist and convict out to torment and humiliate a nice, upper-middle class family. “He’s an ex-con,” yuppie lawyer Sam Bowden smugly says, with fatuous self-satisfaction. But gradually it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem. The wholesome, “superior” middle class family is rotten with corruption, while the vicious, “psychotic” ex-con is a man of extraordinary courage, intelligence, and spiritual strength.
Even his most horrible acts of violence are connected to the corrupt and self-serving behavior of his “betters.” What makes this movie work so well is that director Martin Scorsese breaks away from his usual mean streets milieu. If Max Cady had been an Italian wise guy, the movie would have made excuses for him. The outcome would have been predictable. But here the great director remains an impartial observer of criminal behavior, rather than a sentimental apologist for ethnic violence. (As in GANGS OF NEW YORK.) Max Cady is pure evil, but he speaks the truth about the evil of allowing class distinctions to flourish in a so-called “democracy.” When it came out, this movie was reviled by critics, especially by effete yuppies like Terence Rafferty at GQ and VANITY FAIR. Most of them whined about the violence, but it was painfully clear that what really disturbed them was the possibility that an ugly ex-con really could be smarter, tougher, and more virtuous than a spoiled yuppie lawyer.
Not Scorcese’s best, but pretty good!
Author: Duncan Gowers from London, United Kingdom
12 September 2000
Martin Scorcese’s filmography as director is one of the most accomplished in modern film history. While Cape Fear can’t even hold a candle next to “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas”, it is still a fabulous remake of the 1962 noir classic and it keeps the viewer on the edge right through until the closing credits.
Robert De Niro (in yet another brilliant teaming with Scorcese behind the camera) plays Max Cady, a psychopathic rapist who was sent to jail 14 years earlier for such crimes. He leaves prison with vengeance. Not for his victims or his prosecutor, but his defence councillor, Sam J. Bowden, played by Nick Nolte. It seems Bowden did not defend Cady to the best of his ability. Cady knows this and wants some payback.
Cady’s initial return into Bowden’s life could not have come at a worse time. Bowden has been forced to move his family to Florida after his infidelities threatened his marriage and career. His wife is distrustful and worst of all, Bowden is on the verge of beginning another affair with a female workmate. Added to that, his daughter is at the difficult age of 15.
Almost by ozmosis, Cady understands these problems in the Bowden household and acts on them. He begins terrorising Bowden and his whole family, taking it from one extreme to the next.
What makes Cape Fear such a good film is the rapidly increasing sense of claustrophobia. Scorcese makes a point of using almost only close up shots towards the end of the film. It is a great touch that makes the viewer that much more scared as the film goes on.
Along with that, Robert De Niro is superb as Cady. Only occasionally does the role slip into parody. Mostly he is expertly evil.
Nick Nolte is good if not great, the same for Jessica Lange as Leigh Bowden. It seems as if they were void of any great lines in this film, which is unfortunate given their immense talent. Julliette Lewis is absolutely brilliant as the young daughter, Danielle. She slips effortlessly between curious sexual awakenings, rebellious teen and straight thinking woman. Add in small roles for Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (the leads of the 1962 version) and you have a great ensemble cast.
So not the best Scorcese film ever, but some tight editing, great camerawork, a haunting theme and devilishly over-the-top acting help make this a frighteningly fun movie to watch. Strongly recommended
Author: Robert J. Maxwell (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
7 April 2004
The climaxes are emblematic of the differences between Scorcese’s version and the original. In 1962, Mitchum was ordinary, ironic, sneaky. Peck was Peck. And the climax was quiet. Crickets chirped. There was no wind. Bodies crept around in black shadows or splashed together in shallow water. In this one, Nolte is a lawyer who has broken the code and DeNiro is his nemesis, tatooed, obscene, half his face burned off, a raving maniac. Not sinister, just absolutely loco. And the confrontation is situated in a howling gale, earsplitting noise, rushing rapids, the groan of fiberglass hull splitting on rocks, blood all over the place.
I don’t know that one version is in any objective sense better than the other, although I vastly prefer the earlier version. I liked Mitchum’s character better. He was quite ordinary in an extraordinary way. But from the beginning DeNiro seems to overplay the role. His accent, redolent of grits and red-eye gravy, seems to sit uncomfortably on him (maybe he’s played in too many New York movies), whereas Mitchum’s sly Southern drawl comes out oh so naturally. And that sinister grin of Mitchum’s is worth a dozen lessons at the Actor’s Studio.
But there is one scene in which DeNiro outdoes Mitchum in terms of sheer impact. It’s when the wrecked houseboat is being swept out into the raging river with DeNiro shackled to a stanchion about to be drowned. DeNiro launches into this fit of screaming nonsense and singing gibberish hymns, insane in a way you’ll never be. It’s an explosive performance.
Juliette Lewis is remarkable too. Her “umms” and “ahhs” and other hesitations fit her barely nubile personality exactly. Her scene with DeNiro in the mock Schwarzwald of the high school auditorium is impossible not to admire. Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange turn in professional performances, as do the other principal actors.
I’m not sure why I like the earlier version better. Maybe because it was so awesomely simple a story compared to this one. There was good and there was evil. We all know the world doesn’t work that way, but it’s fascinating to watch a simple-minded tale being spun out like a well-told fairy story. This one invites us to think about things. Unlike Lori Martin in 1962, Juliette Lewis gets a temporary case of the hots for the well-read and manipulative ex-con. And unlike Peck in 1962, Nolte has committed sins. He held back information that might have helped his client, DeNiro, because he was convinced that DeNiro was guilty and should be put away. I can’t figure out what Jessica Lange or the dog did, but everybody has to be redeemed anyway because of original sin. Scorcese’s Catholicism may be showing.
Overall, this is flashier in every respect than the original — more guns, more blood, more “force majeur” — and maybe that’s part of the problem. At times it looks as much like pandering to an audience of kids raised on MTV’s quick cuts and sexy bodies and on Sly Stallone’s action movies. I mean that at times it felt like the movie was talking down to the audience.
Still, it’s an interesting movie in its own right. Not badly done. But I wish they’d stop pushing out remakes of classics. Leave well enough alone because otherwise you’re liable to find yourself in Dante’s Purgatorio.
Scorsese on Elm Street….
Author: mcfly-31 from anaheim, ca
6 June 2009
I think we all begin a lot of reviews with, “This could’ve made a GREAT movie.” A demented ex-con freshly sprung, a tidy suburban family his target. Revenge, retribution, manipulation. Marty’s usual laying on of the Karo syrup. But unfortunately somewhere in Universal’s high-rise a memorandum came down: everyone ham it up.
Nolte only speaks with eyebrows raised, Lange bitches her way through cigarettes, Lewis “Ohmagod’s!” her way though her scenes, and Bobby D…well, he’s on a whole other magic carpet. Affecting some sort of Cajun/Huckleberry Hound accent hybrid, he chomps fat cigars and cackles at random atrocities such as “Problem Child”. And I want you to imagine the accent mentioned above. Now imagine it spouting brain-clanging religious rhetoric at top volume like he swallowed six bibles, and you have De Niro’s schtick here. Most distracting of all, though, is his most OVERDONE use of the “De Niro face” he’s so lampooned for. Eyes squinting, forehead crinkled, lips curled. Crimany, Bob, you looked like Plastic Man.
The story apparently began off-screen 14 years earlier, when Nolte was unable to spare De Niro time in the bighouse for various assaults. Upon release, he feels Nolte’s misrep of him back then warrants the terrorizing of he and his kin.
And we’re supposed to give De Niro’s character a slight pass because Nolte withheld information that might’ve shortened his sentence. De Niro being one of these criminals who, despite being guilty of unspeakable acts, feels his lack of freedom justifies continuing such acts on the outside. Mmm-kay.
He goes after Notle’s near-mistress (in a scene some may want to turn away from), his wife, his daughter, the family dog, ya know. Which is one of the shortcomings of Wesley Strick’s screenplay: utter predictability. As each of De Niro’s harassments becomes more gruesome, you can pretty much call the rest of the action before it happens. Strick isn’t to be totally discredited, as he manages a few compelling dialogue-driven moments (De Niro and Lewis’ seedy exchange in an empty theater is the film’s best scene), but mostly it’s all over-cranked. Scorsese’s cartoonish photographic approach comes off as forced, not to mention the HORRIBLY outdated re-worked Bernard Hermann score (I kept waiting for the Wolf Man to show up with a genetically enlarged tarantula).
Thus we arrive at the comedic portion of the flick. Unintentionally comedic, that is. You know those scenes where something graphically horrific is happening, but you can’t help but snicker out of sight of others? You’ll do it here. Nolte and Lange squawking about infidelity, De Niro’s thumb-flirting, he cross-dressing, and a kitchen slip on a certain substance that has to be seen to believed. And Bob’s infernal, incessant, CONSTANT, mind-damaging, no-end-in sight blowhard ramblings of all the “philosophy” he disovered in prison. I wanted him killed to shut him up more than to save this annoying family.
I always hate to borrow thoughts from other reviewers, but here it’s necessary. This really *is* Scorsese’s version of Freddy Krueger. The manner in which De Niro relishes, speaks, stalks, withstands pain, right down to his one-liners, is vintage Freddy. Upon being scalded by a pot of thrown water: “You trying’ to offer sumpin’ hot?” Please. And that’s just one example.
Unless you were a fan of the original 1962 flick and want a thrill out of seeing Balsam, Peck, and Mitchum nearly 30 years later (or want a serious head-shaking film experience), avoid a trip to the Cape.