Plot Synopsis by Hal Erickson
After an eight-year prison term for rape and assault, Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) is set free. Immediately making a beeline to Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), the former prosecutor responsible for Cady’s conviction, Cady laconically informs Sam that he intends to “pay back” the attorney for his years behind bars. Conducting a meticulous campaign of terror, Cady is careful to stay within the law. Sam, realizing that Cady intends to wreak vengeance by raping the attorney’s wife (Polly Bergen) and daughter (Lori Martin), tries to put the ex-criminal behind bars, but has no grounds to do so. Chief Dutton (Martin Balsam) tries to help Sam with a few strong-arm tactics, but succeeds only in having the courts take Cady’s side in the matter. Things come to a head when Sam moves his family to the “safety” of a remote houseboat on Cape Fear river. Cady shows up unannounced and is about to ravage Bowden’s wife and daughter and when Sam turns the tables.
Filmed in black and white, director J.Lee Thompson uses shadows and light, and the art of suggestion(the censors were pretty tough back in the 60’s), to bring us this bone-chilling and suspenseful classic that over fourty years later, still, has not lost it’s draw.
It’s good vs. evil, as Greogory Peck and Robert Mitchum, put their immense talents together for this spine tingler. Max Cady(Mitchum) has just been released from 8 long years in prison. From the moment we meet him, we KNOW this is one bad hombre. He is bent on revenge, and Sam Bowden(Peck) is the man who must pay.
Mitchum is simply powerful in his performance of this menacing threat, and Peck as always is perfect in his portrayal of the family man whose life has just turned into one big nightmare!
The film is also helped by the wonderful talents of Telly Savalas and Martin Balsam. Polly Bergen and Lori Martin are magnificent as the terrified wife and daughter.The talent doesn’t end there though, the haunting music was scored by Bernard Hermann(who worked with Hitch on several films), and Sam Leavitt does a fabulous job with the black and white cinematography.