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Cape Fear (1991)

Year: 1991
Studio: Universal
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast (in credits order):
Robert De Niro ... Max Cady
Nick Nolte ... Sam Bowden
Jessica Lange ... Leigh Bowden
Robert Mitchum ... Lieutenant Elgart
Juliette Lewis ... Danielle Bowden
Gregory Peck ... Lee Heller
Martin Balsam ... Judge

   Scorsese chats with Nolte and Mitchum on the set of Cape Fear. (Premiere)

Plot synopsis: Ex-con Max Cady seeks revenge against the lawyer he blames for his incarceration by preying on the lawyer's wife and teenage daughter. In the original film, Bowden interrupted Cady's attack on a girl and testified against him. In the remake, Bowden was Cady's defense lawyer but buried evidence that may have gotten his client acquitted.

Verdict: In this remake of the 1962 original, De Niro not only draws on Mitchum's indelible portrait of a cunning psycho, but on Mitchum's turn as crazed Southern preacher Harry Powell from The Night of the Hunter. The result is certainly over the top, and the film strains credulity with the "gotcha" ending so popular in contemporary thrillers. That chilling Bernard Herrmann score still sounds great after all this years, however, and the opening credits sequence by the late master Saul Bass is stunning.

Behind the Scenes: De Niro received an Oscar nomination, as did nymphette Lewis, who's still mostly remembered for the infamous "thumb sucking" scene, which was not in the original. Scorsese resisted taking on this film until he had "Catholicized" the script to make the Bowdens more flawed and not the nicey-nice family of the original. "I thought the family was too clichéd, too happy," he told Premiere magazine in 1991. "And then along comes the bogeyman to scare them. They were like Martians to me. I was rooting for Max to get them."

Pop Culture Impact:

  • Fans of The Simpsons got a real treat with 1993's "Cape Feare" episode, in which murderous TV clown Sideshow Bob tries to kill his school-aged nemesis, Bart Simpson. The parody draws more from the remake than the original film, particularly the scene in which our villain straps himself to the bottom of the Simpsons' car -- but Nick Nolte didn't have a sudden impulse to drive through a cactus patch! Widely considered one of the best Simpsons episodes ever. Other nods to the '91 film include Bob being covered in anti-Bart tattoos and a climax aboard the family's houseboat, which is situated not in "Cape Fear," but on "Terror Lake." Read an episode guide on the Simpsons archive.

  • In Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Angel Drew Barrymore's tattoed, muscled ex-boyfriend, Irish gangster Seamus O'Grady (Justin Theroux) seeks revenge on her for putting him in jail. We first see Seamus working out in his jail cell to the menacing strains of the Cape Fear theme. Later he threatens Barrymore, "I'm going to teach you about pain."
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