Because I teach "To Kill A Mockingbird" and show my students the Oscar-winning film, I ended up buying a six-DVD box of Gregory Peck movies. Among the box's treasures is "Cape Fear," a film that came out in 1961, the year before "To Kill a Mockingbird" and stars a very different Peck from the sedate, level-headed Atticus Finch.
My husband and I settled in to watch "Cape Fear" this weekend. It's a psychological thriller that takes place in Georgia. The action is set into motion when Max Cady, a convicted rapist, played by Robert Mitchum, finishes his prison term and tracks down lawyer Sam Bowden, the key witness against him. Peck portrays Bowden.
Martin Balsam plays the police chief, whose hands are tied by the law in terms of his ability to protect Bowden's family. He points out to Bowden that he can't arrest a man for a crime he has yet to commit.
The movie is filled with tension: the rapist stalks Bowden, his wife and adolescent daughter. The movie had me on the edge of my sofa. Max Cady is a really, really creepy predator. When I mentioned to my 80-year-old mother, a huge Gregory Peck fan, that we had just seen the movie, she told me it terrified her years ago and that she never could see it again.
The question at this movie's heart is: how far will a man go to protect his loved ones? Will an upstanding lawyer break the law to protect his wife and daughter when he finds the law inadequate?
One reflection both my husband and I made while watching this movie is how much has changed for the better in the U.S. legal system. Rape victims' names are not revealed by newspapers; anti-stalking laws can help protect victims; and sex offenders need to register in whatever communities they end up living in once they are released from prison.
This movie is good, really good. Martin Scorsese remade the movie in 1991 and I am reluctant to see it because I have such high regard for this original. The only reason to see Scorsese's film? It features cameos by Peck, Mitchum and Balsam.