Cape Fear Is The Template All Remakes Should Be Set Against

As the 1980’s drew to a close it seemed that perhaps great film making may have passed Martin Scorsese behind. It had been ten years since he had made a near masterpiece with Raging Bull and brought Robert De Niro his second Academy Award and brought together one of the greatest on-screen duo’s with De Niro and Joe Pesci. Scorsese had his moments in the 80’s though with The King Of Comedy and The Last Temptation Of Christ but nothing really living up to what appeared to be on the horizon with Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Then hit 1990, and his opus was born with a return to the streets and life he was more familiar with in Goodfellas. Goodfellas was a cultural phenomenon and revolutionized a genre of films that had been around since Howard Hughes was producing films. The gangster movie was reborn and with a vengeance. It would appear that Scorsese could do whatever he wanted made anything he felt the desire. Rumor has it this wasn’t the case.

A script had been floating around tasked to remake the 1962 thriller Cape Fear which was a legendary movie with outstanding performances from Robert Mitchum and all time good guy Gregory Peck. Remakes are very tricky territory and rarely, if ever live up to the original. Only a perfectly casted and directed version could work. The studio originally wanted the already legendary Steven Spielberg to take the helm on this seemingly daunting task. Spielberg declined and recommended Scorsese and helped the studio, his own Amblin Entertainment, convince Marty to undertake the project by telling him that if he made this sure to be commercial film he would have the freedom to make any film he wanted there after.

Scorsese agreed and pulled his good friend along for the ride, Robert De Niro. De Niro immediately agreed to play the harrowing villain Max Cady in a real change of gears for De Niro. De Niro seamlessly transitioned from consummate gangster and Italian tough guy to southern bread psycho path. The juiciest role by far in the film and no doubt the most fun to play.

Cast to play his opposite was notorious Hollywood bad boy, Nick Nolte. Nolte’s family would be round out with the lovely Jessica Lange playing his wife and the ever versatile Juliette Lewis as his nubile young daughter. Lewis would end up stealing a good portion of the movie and come away with a much deserved Oscar nomination.

Wisely not doing a frame by frame remake of the original Cape Fear (a la Gus Van Sant’s awful Psycho remake) but he made a classic thriller a new classic Scorsese movie without losing the integrity of what made the original so great. Scorsese was at the top of his craft during this time period. With Goodfellas and Cape Fear he trusted his  camera angles and let his actors act. It was sharp and raw with a feeling that captures you in the moment and never let’s go.

Martin got the best out of every actor and gave legitimacy to this remake when several original actors agreed to appear in the movie and it didn’t feel like a half hearted way to garner approval with classic film audiences.

What Scorsese was able to do with Cape Fear was lay out exactly how a remake should be done and that it can be. What Cape Fear wasn’t able to do is show that not every classic film SHOULD be remade. All the elements have to come together as one. The Actors have to be just right, the director has to be bold enough and smart enough to not take his assignment to serious and let the film flow and be it’s own. Scorsese was not afraid to let some scenes seem over the top or, dare I say cartoonish, it was the terror that was main element that mattered and without a doubt Marty and De Niro terrified to the core with what could be called the greatest remake in cinematic history and only a film appreciator like Mr. Scorsese could accomplish such a feat.

9 thoughts on “Cape Fear Is The Template All Remakes Should Be Set Against”

  1. Excellent assessment. I was never a huge Scorsese fan, but I love “Cape Fear.” It manages to capture the proper mood with the acting and sense of fun with the over-the-top camera work. Maybe it was due to the fact that Scorsese didn’t really want to do this movie, it freed him up to just have fun rather than make an “important” movie.

  2. This version is excellent and is more in depth, especially with the scenes with Julliete Lewis,
    and De Niro is chilling almost too much so.

    I still prefer the original as it left more to the imagination and Mitchum was perfectly cast, and Peck as the good guy who made a mistake, makes him more believable than Nolte.

    Scorseee always finds new perspectives in his film making, because he understands what film is about, and reminds me of the great directors of the past who really work with the actors to get the best from them and De Niro always works with the material and not against it, that’s what makes him so compelling to watch.

  3. His most underrated movie, I think. It’s such a tour de force of all his creative powers at once. I remember seeing it in the theater-with my mother, no less. The intensity and technical prowess are up there with any thriller I can think of, including Hitchcock.

  4. Remaking a movie is always a difficult thing. Like you said, this is one of the few done right and film makers such as Michael Bay should take note (Nightmare on Elm Street was an abomination in comparison to the original). Now I hear remakes are on the schedule for Child’s Play and Robocop. All be it their latest sequels were disgraces but some originals should be left alone. I think the reason Scorsese’s Cape Fear work is that it is original despite being a remake.

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