Episode 17: Cape Fear

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After riding the waves in SoCal in the last episode, Sean and Cody set out to navigate the swamps of the South and deconstruct the putrefying secrets that molder in North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. In this 1991 thriller by Martin Scorsese, a remake of a 1962 film noir, convicted rapist Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) has a burr up his bum about the crap job that his former lawyer Sam (Nick Nolte) did of defending him decades before. After stalking Sam and his family, poisoning their pooch and babbling metaphysical nonsense to their rebellious teenage daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis), Max follows the clan to their hideout on the Cape Fear River, setting up a showdown that tests the limits of cinematic credulity and practical special effects. Environmental issues discussed include slavery-era agriculture and its legacies, the interactions of birds and humans, the post-World War II “New South” and more.

Why did scaring birds away become an economic necessity in antebellum North Carolina, and why were they still trying it nearly a century later? What’s a “whirligig”? Who was Edward Kalmbach and why was he trying to blow stuff up? What is the Law of Negligent Compounding Peril? How did Juliette Lewis get into Scientology? Did Robert DeNiro really ruin his teeth on purpose to play this role? How do you know a Mafia law firm when you encounter one? Why do the characters quote the wrong legal statutes to one another? Didn’t anyone check with a real lawyer first? What’s the stupidest argument made by climate change deniers? Which of our hosts never wants to see this film again? All these questions and more come bubbling to the surface. Come out, come out, wherever you are for this terrifying episode of Green Screen.

CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains discussion of sexual assault. So does the movie.

Original trailer for Cape Fear. This trailer contains a lot of footage that did not make it into the final version.

Additional Materials About This Episode

The audience is introduced to the character of Max Cady, played by Robert DeNiro. It is today considered his scariest role.

The horrible, icky, creepy sequence from Cape Fear that everybody remembersAll the dialogue in this sequence was apparently ad-libbed.

The “trial” scene from Cape Fear. As discussed in the episode, much of the law quoted by the characters in this sequence is wrong.

The Environmental History

David Cecelski, “Blackbirds at Big Island,” November 26, 2017 (a blog post delving into the history of birds and humans in the Cape Fear River area, including the story of Edward Kalmbach):

Website for Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC:

Website for the Cape Fear Museum:

Cape Fear River area from satellite photography. Note the dark color of the “blackwater” river, similar to the Amazon.

What this area looks like on the ground. Link and coordinates here.

The number to text with a city and state to find out what Native American nations the land belongs to (mentioned in the episode) is 907-312-5085.

Movie Stuff

What does an executive producer do? Amber from the Beyond Film School blog explains.

Illeana Douglas, who appears as Lori in Cape Fear, discusses the movie and her role in it. She has some fascinating insights.

The “Law of Negligent Compounding Peril,” named by Sean, is illustrated in this clip from the 1943 Republic movie serial Manhunt in the African Jungle. The death ray and the bombers are negligently ignored by hero Rex Bennett during his fight with villainous henchmen. A version of this cinematic formula appears in the climax of Cape Fear.

Trailer for the original 1962 version of Cape Fear.

Cape Fear (1991) at IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101540/
Cape Fear (1991) at Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/cape-fear-1991/

Next Movie Up: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

The still from Cape Fear is presumably copyright (c) 1991 by Universal Pictures. Its inclusion here is believed to be permissible under fair use, as are images from other productions. 

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