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Cape Fear is a 1991 thriller film, directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a remake of the 1962 film of the same name and tells the story of a family man, a former public defender, whose family is threatened by a convicted rapist who wants vengeance for having been imprisoned for 14 years because of the lawyer's purposefully faulty defense tactics, prejudicing the accused. It received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Robert De Niro) and Best Supporting Actress (Juliette Lewis). The two were also nominated for Golden Globe Awards.


Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) is a former Atlanta public defender who is now in private practice in the quiet town of New Essex, North Carolina. Max Cady (Robert De Niro) is a client Bowden defended 14 years ago in Atlanta. Cady, who was being tried for the rape and battery of a young woman, was illiterate at the time and unable to read a report Bowden kept hidden from the court that revealed the woman Cady raped to have been promiscuous. The report could have possibly lightened Cady's sentence or even acquitted him had Bowden brought it to light.

After his release from prison, Cady tracks down Bowden. The ex-con learned to read in prison and even assumed his own defense, unsuccessfully appealing his conviction several times. Cady hints strongly that he has learned about Bowden burying the report, noting that the judge and prosecutor in his case were trying to do right by their jobs but feeling betrayed by his own lawyer. Bowden attempts to bribe Cady to make him go away, an offer Cady dismisses with laughter.

Several incidents involving Cady begin to impact the Bowden family, which consists of Sam's wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) and their teenage daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis). The family dog is mysteriously poisoned. Cady is seen at night perched on the wall just outside the Bowden property limits. Sam attempts to have Cady arrested but a local police lieutenant (Robert Mitchum) reminds Bowden that there is no real evidence of a crime.

Cady ups the ante. At a bar, he seduces Lori Davis (Illeana Douglas), a female colleague of Bowden's with whom Sam may or may not be having an affair. In bed, he savagely bites the flesh off her cheek. He proceeds to brutally beat and rape her.

In the hospital, a terrified Lori refuses to press charges against Cady. Cady next approaches Danielle at her school by pretending to be her new drama teacher. He nearly seduces her, going so far as to kiss her. These incidents lead Bowden to buy a gun and hire a private investigator named Kersek (Joe Don Baker) to follow Cady. Kersek eventually persuades Bowden to hire three men to beat Cady in an effort to intimidate him but, as Bowden watches in horror from a hiding place, Cady turns the tide on his attackers.

Before the assault, Bowden approached Cady in a restaurant and warned him to leave town or suffer the consequences. Cady surreptitiously taped the conversation. He uses the recording (and an exaggerated display of his own injuries) to file for a restraining order against Bowden. Cady's new lawyer, Lee Heller (Gregory Peck), also files a complaint with the North Carolina State Bar, vowing to have Bowden disbarred from practicing law.

Kersek reasons that Cady may try to enter the Bowden house during Sam's appearance at a bar hearing out of town. They fake Bowden's departure and hole up at the house, hoping that Cady will break in so that he can be shot and killed with impunity. As they wait, a disguised Cady attacks and kills Kersek in the kitchen. Sam, Leigh and Dani discover his body together with that of the Bowdens' housekeeper. Horrified, they flee in a car to their boat, which is docked upstate along Cape Fearmarker.

Cady follows them by literally tying himself to the underbelly of the Bowdens' car. That night, he attacks the family on the boat, beating and tying up Sam, and prepares to rape both Leigh and Dani while Sam watches. Dani manages to temporarily avert the nightmare by spraying Cady with lighter fluid while he lights a cigar, causing the psychopath to jump off the boat into the water in order to put out the flames that are consuming him. Cady clings to a rope tied to the boat, however, and pulls himself back on board.

As the boat is rocked by a violent storm, Cady ferociously confronts Bowden with a mock trial. Bowden admits to having buried the potentially exculpatory report but counters that the woman's promiscuity was no justification to defend a rape. An enraged Cady prepares to kill Bowden but the storm finally causes the boat to break up, allowing Sam to gain the upper hand once the women make it to shore. The men fight furiously, with Bowden about to crush Cady's head with a large stone when a raging tide carries away Cady, madly speaking in tongues. Bowden washes Cady's blood off his hands. At the movie's conclusion, Dani reads aloud from a diary of the family's ordeal.

Unlike the 1962 film where it clearly shows that Cady is sadistic and cruel, the viewer is left to decide whether or not Bowden is just as bad as Cady.


Mitchum, Peck, and Balsam all starred in the 1962 original but in different roles for the 1991 version. In the original, Mitchum was Cady and Peck was Bowden.

This was also Gregory Peck's final theatrical film.


The film was adapted by Wesley Strick from the original screenplay by James R. Webb, which was an adaptation from the novel The Executioners by John D. MacDonald.

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robert De Niro, lost to Anthony Hopkins) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Juliette Lewis, lost to Mercedes Ruehl). The film was a box-office success and received critical acclaim.

Scorsese retained the original music of the 1961 film by Bernard Herrmann.

The film expands on the original's themes in some depth, changing relationships (the drifter Cady assaults is now a legal clerk who is close to Bowden) and adding more complex background details. Nolte's Sam Bowden is morally flawed and, therefore, his resorting to violence is less surprising than in the original. Cady is presented as having a justified motive to pursue Bowden, because of Bowden's deliberate negligence of care during his original trial.

One of the major criticisms of the original film was that Gregory Peck, who played Sam Bowden, was clearly the physical superior of Robert Mitchum's Max Cady, particularly the fact that he was much taller. In this film, Nick Nolte was clearly taller than Robert DeNiro, but both respectively lost weight and developed their muscles until DeNiro was clearly the stronger man.

The film was parodied in The Simpsons episode Cape Feare.

It was also parodied in the Airplane!-like comedy Fatal Instinct.

Likewise, in South Park Season 8 Episode 810 Pre - School, the plot line of the cartoon closely resembles the movie with Trent Boyett the school bully closely resembling Max Cady with the tattoo "Vengeance is mine" on his body. In the cartoon, the part when Stan, Eric, Kyle, and Kenny hire a group of 6th graders to deal with Boyett and all to be severely beaten as a result is another part that parodied the movie.

Although a remake of the original Cape Fear, Scorsese's update is also greatly influenced by another Mitchum film, The Night of the Hunter (1955), and the work of Alfred Hitchcock (signaled by the opening credits by regular Hitchcock collaborator Saul Bass and its score by another, Bernard Herrmann).

This is also the first film Scorsese shot in the wider 2.39:1 aspect ratio, as opposed to the smaller 1.85:1 ratio in which he had filmed all his previous works (Excluding New York, New Yorkmarker, which was shot in 1.66:1).

Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum appear in supporting roles, Peck as Cady's lawyer, and Mitchum as the police detective who suggests to Bowden the possibility of using alternative means to stop Cady.


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