Cape Fear is a 1962 film directed by J. Lee Thompson. It tells the story of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a lawyer whose family is threatened by a convicted rapist. The rapist, Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), wants vengeance for having been imprisoned on Bowden's testimony after the latter witnessed him attempting to rape a woman. After a lengthy game of cat and mouse between the two, Bowden takes his family to their houseboat on Cape Fear, hoping to set a trap for Cady that will lead to his re-imprisonment. Needless to say, this does not go as planned.The film was remade in 1991 by director Martin Scorsese, with Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro portraying Bowden and Cady. De Niro and Juliette Lewis received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for their performances. In this version, Cady is out to get Bowden because the latter, while defending Cady on a rape charge, allowed possibly-exculpatory evidence about the victim to remain secret, leading to Cady's conviction.
Both films contains examples of:
Adult Fear: Rape in both versions, moral corruption (Cady seducing Danielle and basically trying to get Sam to kill him) in the remake.
Forgotten Trope: Viewers can be somewhat mystified by the premise for why antagonist Max Cady (Robert De Niro) felt slighted by protagonist Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). At the time of release, the prior sexual history of a rape victim was a valid defense that would have lessened Cady's sentence, or might have even kept him out of jail. Nowadays, prior sexual history is inadmissable in rape cases.
Genius Bruiser: Cady is both in exceptionally good shape and terrifyingly smart.
He studied law in prison, becoming a lawyer, even acting as his own defense during his appeals, so he knew when and how to harass the Bowdens.
He Who Fights Monsters: In the end this was what Cady was counting on Sam to do, whether he succeeded in hurting his family or not. To make it even more scary, we see Sam growling and snarling at Cady when he fights him.
Ironic Echo: In a meta-sense; where Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum played the upstanding lawyer and the sadistic rapist in the original, their cameo roles in the remake essentially place them on the opposite sides, with Mitchum playing a police detective sympathetic to Bowden's plight and Peck playing Cady's attorney.
Peck stated in an interview that he was offered a few different roles to make a cameo as, and immediately asked for the least sympathetic one.
Jump Scare: One of them happens when the phone rings during dinner. Actually, the ringer was loud...
Made of Iron: Max gets beaten on for quite a while by some thugs, but as soon as he gets a weapon away from one of them, he takes them all down with ease. Later, Danielle throws some boiling water in his face, and he doesn't even blink. Grasping a lit roman candle didn't faze him, either.
Menacing Stroll: Cady, even when he's released from prison, even walking into the camera.
Mood Whiplash: One minute, Lori (Bowden's friend, may have been an ex-lover) is giddy and flirtatious, she's screaming in terror the next.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Bowden should have never consented to the thugs beating Cady up. That only made Cady go off the rails.
Noodle Incident: Both Bowdens' past infidelities, requiring therapy and forcing them to move. Leigh suspected Lori and Sam were having an affair, thus explaining some phone conversation in hushed tones (actually, he was checking on her after Cady attacked her).
Obfuscating Disability: When the judge granted the restraining order against Bowden, Cady hobbled right out of court in crutches.
Police Are Useless: When Bowden suspects that Cady is stalking him, the first thing he does is go to the police, but they can't do anything because they lack any evidence of wrongdoing. The one helpful cop (played by Robert Mitchum) suggests using his family as bait. Bowden doesn't care for the implications.
Prison Rape: Cady's quip about "being a woman" and getting in touch with his own "soft, nurturing side, his feminine side" when Sam Bowden tried to buy him off.
Professional Wrestling: There wasn't any of it in the movie, but WWE based the short lived Waylon Mercy character on De Niro's portrayal of Cady, and over a decade later Bray Wyatt.
Remake Cameo: The remake featured cameos by Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, the hero and antagonist (respectively) of the original.
Also, Martin Balsam, who played the sympathetic cop role in the original, plays a judge in the remake.
Underside Ride: Max Cady ties himself to the bottom Sam Bowden's car, causing the Bowden family to take him directly to the houseboat. This probably the most parodied element of the film.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: While it was highly unprofessional for Bowden to withhold evidence from the trial, it didn't excuse the fact that Cady had actually performed a brutal rape so Bowden felt Cady needed to serve the maximum sentence. Bowden defiantly points this out to Cady during the final confrontation. The nature of the evidence—the rape victim's sexual history—also helps with this, "shaming the victim" in such a sense being a particularly controversial defence in rape trials.
Enforced Method Acting: Inadvertently done, possibly. Disappointed because he couldn't get Hayley Mills for the role of Nancy, the director gave Lori Martin a hard time during filming, which probably resulted in her nailing every scene as the terrified, vulnerable girl.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Despite the overwhelming theme of sexual violence, the word "rape" is never used, nor does the dialogue get explicit. The closest the script comes is "attacked". This last case is fully justified, as the parents are discussing the possibility of Cady going after their daughter, and their tone makes it clear that they are consciously using a euphemism because they are trying to avoid thinking about their daughter getting raped.
Throw It In: The scene with the egg was added by the director on the day of filming. Bergen's reactions to Mitchum rubbing the eggs on her was real. And the parts where he drags her through the house? That happened because several doors wouldn't open and he had to force his way through in order to keep the scene going. (Too bad it resulted in her incurring some genuine injuries as well)
Tranquil Fury: Mitchum has this quiet but insistent animal terror underlying everything he does.