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Why do I love Robert Mitchum’s performance at Cape Fear?

Why do I love Robert Mitchum's performance at Cape Fear?

Sixty years after its release, Mitchum's unnerving performance as vengeful convict Max Cady still packs a punch.

“hI was always ready to explode” director J. Lee Thompson described Robert Mitchum’s performance when working with him on his brutal noir Cape Fear (1962). Although the actor already had the ability to play tough guys. There was a track record that even the most ardent Mitchum fans were unprepared for the malevolence of the role.

Adapted from the novel The Executioners (1957) by John D. McDonald, Cape Fear is a tale of revenge told with a distinctive evil. It follows Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck, also the film’s producer), a small-town lawyer who lives an idyllic life with his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and their daughter, Nancy (Lori Martin). Eight years earlier, Sam testified as a civilian against a vicious serial rapist Max Cady (Mitchum). Upon her release, Cady tracks down the Bowden family and begins to put them in danger. Despite attempts to drive her out of town, Cady is a shrewd adversary; He knows the law and how far he can push it. However, more than just scaring the Bowdens, Cady wants her revenge to be as scary as possible; He tells Sam that his ultimate aim is to rape his wife and daughter. How far will Sam go to save his family from such a fate?

For a film made in the early 1960s, Cape Fear hit no punches with regards to its subject matter. Its cool, languid atmosphere lingers on for a long time after viewing. Although it draws on Lee’s direction and the voracious South Georgia setting, the real heart of the film’s danger lies in Mitchum’s performance.

The actor’s loud swagger is the first thing the viewer sees—as the opening credits roll, he strolls casually into his linen jacket and Panama hat. Two things tell the audience that this is unlucky; The first is the music of Bernhard Herrmann, a leitmotif for Mitchum’s character that also renders his presence on the sidewalk a potential threat. The other is Mitchum himself – he looks normal at first, but his different behavior becomes apparent as soon as he meets people.

He stares at a woman in the street, better than never in Mitchum’s career. Another woman drops some files in front of him. Instead of helping her, he just keeps walking. It’s a simple scenario and yet Mitchum’s actions show that it’s more than just a lack of laziness toward others. Women only care about Cady in one way. He hates the society around him; The bitterness may be partly real, with Savannah’s filming location where Mitchum was hired to work in a chain gang for vaginas at a young age.

Mitchum had already created another great noir villain in this period; Preacher in Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955). Similar to Cady, the Reverend Harry Powell is a misogynist, but appears very differently on screen. Their drive is the same, combining a deadly mix of lust and hatred. Yet the way they work results in a dramatically opposite performance, showing off the full range of Mitchum’s skills. There’s a Reason Cady Was Voted the 28th Best Villain American Film Institute’s 2003 Heroes and Villains Poll While Powell came in 29th place.

On the one hand, Powell has built a narrative around himself to excuse his attacks on women for their money. This was done in the name of God, legalized by his own dementia theology – Cady is a different matter altogether. He doesn’t need a frame of reference to live with what he does because he doesn’t care. He enjoys sexual violence against women the same way he enjoys whiskey and a cigar between his teeth.

The symbolic fire and thunder of Laughton’s film is exemplified by a sweat in Leigh, a change in Mitchum. His body gleams on screen, becoming animal-like in the breath of the film in the final twenty minutes. According to biographer Lee Server, Mitchum would roam the set topless throughout filming, act angry and even evade specifics with the crew. Cady becomes a creature crawling through the swamp, but the overall point of Thompson’s film is that it is, in another sense, extremely normal. Reality is full of Max Cadis. He is not a mythical preacher extolling love and hate; He’s the every guy, the guy constantly staring at the bar.

Even Cady’s on-screen opposite is having a tough time. Peck was famously slightly below Mitchum’s performance, mainly because it stole the limelight. As Thompson suggested in a documentary on the film, “we were always aware of the fact that the part of Peck was in danger of becoming a villain’s assistant.”

Such was the pace of the performance, Mitchum seemed unstoppable even to the director. It’s surprising that he threw himself so deeply that Lee and Peck gave the actor a case of bourbon and flowers to convince him to take the role. This momentum comes to the fore in the film’s most tense sequence.

When Peggy finally beheads on a boat, it looks like Cady will indeed take her revenge and attack Sam’s wife. The scene is slow and harrowing, with Cady trapping Peggy with her huge, soaked body. The sequence was largely improvised, showing the skills of both actors, but notably Mitchum. His actions are jagged and wild, with the true character revealed beneath the earlier initial swagger. He bursts through the door; In fact it is, because the prop men forgot to unlock them. He’s drawing on the show of real strength and adrenaline.

Mitchum cut himself badly while filming the sequence but continued on regardless. The blood seen is genuine, as was Bergen’s reaction to being taunted by Mitchum with the egg, again unwrapped. This is one of the most powerful scenes ever filmed in Hollywood. As Bergen later recalled, “Her hand was covered in blood, my back was covered in blood. We just kept going, got caught up in the scene. They came and physically stopped us. For a moment, the Mitchum actor more character than it was – the results are terrifying today, even sixty years later.

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Reference from lwlies.com

Ketya Cerny