Monday, March 11, 2013
Cape Fear. B+
When I spoke recently of Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear, I mentioned how similar it looked to Alfred Hitchcock's color films of the 50s. What I failed to get at was that the original was also designed to emulate Hitchcock, really just because I hadn't actually seen it. But I recently changed that, and saw that the 1962 version, which is a better movie, is also very much Hitchcockian in its design. Its director, J. Lee Thompson, loved Hitchcock and essentially wanted to make a Hitchcock movie, which leads me to wonder why this isn't labeled along with Charade as the best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made? Not only does Thompson's camera mimic Hitchcock's style, but the story itself combines all the best elements of Hitchcock's finest films (i.e. the dilemma of being a good guy and the viewer's full awareness of which character is which and who is the victim and who is the culprit) and even has a Bernard Hermann score to top things off. But to get to the movie itself. First off, I think it's a better film than the remake, though I will say that there are elements in Scorsese's version that work better than here (a big example would be the origin of the Bowden/Cady relationship. Scorsese changes things up to make Cady's menace more convincing). But really I found that Thompson is actually getting at the core how Hitchcock structured suspense scenes whereas Scorsese is more often than not making something that looks and feels like Hitchcock, but also owes a whole lot to old school pulp. Examples: the scene in which Cady goes after Bowden's daughter at school. In this version, Thompson composes a masterful sequence based on space and assumptions that ultimately turns out to be something far different than we think it is. He takes the idea that a movie can make a viewer expect certain things and thus view a scene based on those expectations and then turn the table and produce something that confounds what the audience thinks. We think Cady is chasing the daughter into the school's basement because we see that he is at the school and we know he's a complete menace, and yet it turns out that it's really the caretaker inside the basement. Then watch what Scorsese does: he brings Cady into the school and turns him into a sexual menace towards the daughter. The scene isn't nearly as exciting or complex as what Thompson accomplishes, a piece of pure pulp that's for sure what Scorsese wanted but ultimately not that difficult to accomplish. I'd say the same thing about the finale on the river, where Thompson keeps things haunting, eerie, and quiet, while Scorsese tries attempts to go overboard by making the sequence as big and intense as possible. It's ultimately a matter of preference and interest, but for two movies that adore Hitchcock, I feel the original Cape Fear shows the love just a little more.