Robert De Niro in Cape Fear (1991): Movie Trivia & Fun Facts
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Robert De Niro in Cape Fear (1991): Movie Trivia & Fun Facts

Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear debuted on November 13, 1991. Amazing Cape Fear movie trivia and fun facts encompass Robert De Niro, John D. MacDonald, Nick Nolte, Robert Mitchum, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, J. Lee Thompson, vegetable dye, Martin Balsam, Joe Don Baker and Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel.

Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear hit movie theaters like a thunderclap in 1991. Robert De Niro stars as Max Cady, an ex-con who returns to his hometown in order to seek revenge against his former lawyer. Here are 21 Cape Fear movie trivia items and fun facts – though "fun" is hardly an appropriate word for the terrifying Cape Fear...

1. Cape Fear owes its origins to the 1958 novel The Executioners by acclaimed American mystery/science fiction writer John D. MacDonald (1916-1986). MacDonald, who begin his literary career in the 1940s, is best remembered for his popular series of 24 crime novels featuring private eye Travis McGee.

2. The Executioners was published by Simon & Schuster and numbers a slim 215 pages. The novel, originally priced at $3.50, received excellent reviews upon its publication in 1958. Reported Anthony Boucher in The New York Times (6/1/58): "MacDonald not only tells, with quiet realism, a powerful and frightening story; he takes a deeper look than most suspense novelists at the problem of private and public justice – even if his ending does avoid some of the questions he has raised."

3. Film rights for The Executioners were purchased by Gregory Peck's Melville-Talbot Productions in association with Universal-International Pictures. The first film version of Cape Fear came to movie theaters in 1962. Directed by J. Lee Thompson, it stars Gregory Peck (Sam Bowden), Robert Mitchum (Max Cady), Polly Bergen (Peggy Bowden) and Lori Martin (Nancy Bowden).

Cape Fear half sheet movie poster with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum - Heritage Auctions

4. J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear garnered good reviews upon its release in the spring of 1962. Reported Paul V. Beckley in The New York Herald Tribune (4/19/62): "Cape Fear is a tour de force, reminiscent of The Desperate Hours [1955], a study in terror that verges on the horror genre...Mitchum's performance sets a new high (or low) in villains." Interestingly, 1962's Cape Fear didn't garner a single Oscar nomination.

5. Universal Pictures remade Cape Fear in 1991 for $35 million. Martin Scorsese directs, with Wesley Strick writing the harrowing screenplay (an update of the original 1962 James R. Webb script) and Elmer Bernstein delivering the eerie music score, the latter of which was based on Bernard Hermann's original 1962 arrangement. According to one source, Strick's screenplay underwent an incredible 24 drafts.

6. Robert De Niro plays Max Cady, the role originated by Robert Mitchum in the 1962 film. In the remake, Cady did 14 years of hard prison time for a brutal sexual assault. Cady has a daughter, but her mother has understandably told her that her father is dead. Max Cady has a savings account passbook with a balance of $90,000, the proceeds from the sale of his deceased mother's farm.

Robert De Niro as Max Cady in Cape Fear (1991) - Universal Pictures

7. Nick Nolte plays attorney Sam Bowden, the Gregory Peck role from the 1962 movie. Sam, who lives with his wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) and their 15-year-old daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis) in New Essex, Georgia, had served as Cady's defense lawyer in Atlanta in 1977.

8. Joe Don Baker plays the squinty-eyed Claude Kersek, the private eye hired by Sam Bowden. Baker is perhaps best known for his role as fabled Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser in Walking Tall (1973). During a stakeout at the Bowden home, Kersek drinks a concoction of Jim Beam whiskey and Pepto-Bismol!

9. Returning from the original 1962 film – albeit, in different roles – are Robert Mitchum (police Lt. Elgart), Gregory Peck (attorney Lee Heller) and Martin Balsam (Judge).

10. Fred Dalton Thompson plays lawyer Tom Broadbent. Dalton served as a U.S. senator from Tennessee and briefly ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

11. Cape Fear was shot on location in Florida (Fort Lauderdale, John U. Lloyd State Park) and Georgia (Savannah).

12. Always the consummate, Method actor, Robert De Niro actually paid a dentist $5,000 to artificially turn his teeth into trash. De Niro also undertook a grueling exercise routine to lose body fat and build muscle. As for his white trash tattoos – "Vengeance Is Mine," "My Turn Is At Hand," "The Lord Is the Avenger," et al. – temporary vegetable dye was used with hideously frightening results. "Jeez, I don't know whether to look at him or read him," Robert Mitchum as Lt. Elgart declares after viewing the heavily tattooed Max Cady at the police station.

13. Cape Fear opens with a shot of a river and a bird flying ominously overhead. Juliette Lewis as the 15-year-old Dani then launches into her narration: "My reminiscence. I always thought, that for such a lovely river the name was mystifying – Cape Fear. When the only thing to fear on those enchanted summer nights was that the magic would end, and real life would come crashing in."

14. Sam Bowden offers Max Cady $10,000 in cash to leave town. The cynical Cady counters using the figure of $50,000 spread out over the 14 years of his confinement. He says it comes to a paltry $10 a day.

15. The Bowdens' dog is named Benson. The animal is poisoned by Max Cady.

16. Private eye Claude Kersek proposes that he hire three guys to do "a little hospital job" on Max Cady in order to end the terror campaign. The price: $1,000. "What are we talking about?" Sam queries. "Two pieces of pipe and a bicycle chain," Kersek replies. Sam originally nixes the idea, but later authorizes it, with a battered, bloodied yet resilient Cady actually turning the tables on his three attackers in an alley. Sam later acquires a gun from Kersek: a .38 snub nose special.

17. Literature references in Cape Fear. While impersonating a high school drama teacher, Max Cady discusses the 1929 Thomas Wolfe novel Look Homeward, Angel with Dani. Cady also leaves a copy of Henry Miller's Sexus for Dani on the Bowdens' porch.

18. How dangerous is Max Cady? In prison, Claude Kersek tells Sam, a fellow inmate complained of Cady's cigar smoke. They later found the guy dead with a broken neck and his tongue bit off. Although Cady could never be connected with "the accident," the parole board kept him in prison for another seven years.

19. On the houseboat at Cape Fear, Max Cady quotes the American Bar Association's Rules of Professional Conduct, Canon 7, which states that "a lawyer should zealously represent his client within the bounds of the law." As Cady's lawyer, Sam had buried a promiscuity report on Cady's 16-year-old rape victim because he knew Cady had brutally raped and beaten the girl.

20. Most chilling (yet gratifying) scene: The psychotic Max Cady, with his ankle handcuffed to a boat railing, begins to sink below the surface, "speaking in tongues" and singing that he is headed to "the promised land." His maniacal eyes lock on Sam before his miserable life is extinguished for good.

21. Cape Fear debuted on November 13, 1991, earning two Academy Award nominations: Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Supporting Actress (Juliette Lewis). Reported Vincent Canby in The New York Times (11/13/91): "Stay away if you're squeamish but, if you do, you'll miss an essential work by one of our masters [Martin Scorsese], as well as two of the year's most accomplished performances, those of Mr. De Niro and Ms. Lewis." Cape Fear took in $77.31 million at the American box office, good for the #14 slot on the list of Hollywood's top moneymakers of 1991.

"We never spoke about what happened, at least to each other. Fear, I suppose. That to remember his name, or what he did, would mean letting him into our dreams..." - Juliette Lewis as Dani Bowden

Additional Reading & Top Image

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Comments (3)

Nice work on this presentation of trivia and information. Thank you.

Nice Information. :)

John D.acDonald is one of my favorite crime novelists. I have read most of his books and have enjoyed every one of them, especially his Travis Magee series. As for the movie, Cape Fear" I have seen both version numerous times and I will probably watch them both many more times as time passes. I really loved the trivial facts that you selected to present in this fine article.