Gregory Peck stars in “Cape Fear” though only when the credits roll. The real star without a shadow of a doubt is Robert Mitchum as Max Cady, the ex-convict who is now seeking revenge against Peck’s Sam Bowden — the lawyer that helped put him away. Mitchum, who also starred in the unprecedented “The Night of the Hunter” as a villainous preacher, seems born to play the bad guy. The scenes where he reservedly watches Bowden’s family at a distance all too close for comfort are disturbing despite us not actually witnessing any brutality from the man himself. The presence of the villain elevates J. Lee Thompson’s “Cape Fear” above the usual trappings of the revenge thriller.
It is always a shame to hear that a great film wasn’t appreciated by its contemporary audience, but it unfortunately happens far more often than might be initially expected. “The Night of the Hunter” is a gem — a gem that has been painstakingly crafted into the best of its kind — a gem where how it came to be is just as important as what it sets out to convey — a gem that manipulates light into a thing of beauty in a way that seems almost impossible and sometimes uncanny. Light and dark swathe the sets created in Charles Laughton’s magnum opus which just so happened to be his only film of his career. If he decided not to direct again because of the attacks from the critics and audiences of the time then its hard not to feel like the brightest candle had been snuffed out just as it got burning.
Darren Aronofsky has managed to very successfully melt my brain. “Pi” is his debut feature and I’m still sat here thinking about it even as I write. I feel very close to fully understanding it but I’m not quire there and it is driving me insane. Fitting I feel, as this is the exact feeling Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) has as he approaches the number that will show him the numerical system that the universe must abide by. A number that may or may not exist, but Max is driven mad by the desire to find it. This is the premise of “Pi”, one of the most cerebral movies I have ever seen.
Buster Keaton is perhaps for many the only other silent film actor they are aware of. Something I learned when I read Roger Ebert’s review of “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” was that Keaton found himself not making the movies he really wanted when he eventually went on to join MGM during the start of the “talkie” age. Previously, Keaton was apparently meticulous with his work. He would repeat a scene over and over again as he saw fit, until he eventually got the effect he wanted. When he lost that control, he began to dislike his hand in the industry. “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” came out one year after 1927’s “The Jazz Singer” which was the very first talkie. Perhaps then Keaton deserves credit for creating such an incredible film and, in terms of quality, defying everything “The Jazz Singer” had to offer film at the time.
You might have thought that watching a silent film in this day and age requires a certain tolerance. The ability to be able to ignore the shortcomings of the era and to have to put yourself in the shoes of the desired demographic to truly enjoy it. Brilliant movies are timeless, I realised this during my viewing of “Metropolis”, a 1927 silent directed by Fritz Lang. That film has a run time of 153 minutes depending on the version you watch and it doesn’t drag that masterpiece down to the depths of such over bloated productions like “Pearl Harbor” for example. “Battleship Potemkin”, like “Metropolis”, is a timeless film and it’s accomplishments are made all the more impressive by the snack like run time of 66 minutes.