Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Executioners, by John D. MacDonald

(pb; 1957, 1958: also published under the title Cape Fear)


From the back cover:

"For fourteen years convicted rapist Max Cady nursed his hatred for Sam Bowden into an insane passion for revenge. He lived only for the day he would be free -- free to track down and destroy the man who put him behind bars.

"Murder was merciful compared to what Cady had in mind -- and what Cady had in mind was Bowden's innocent and lovely teenaged daughter. . ."


Review:

Taut, realistic, and terrifying work, this. Its terrors strike at the heart of what most of us subconsciously fear: losing those we love to primordial forces beyond our control.

MacDonald leavens Cady's intended brutalities -- which are largely left to the reader's imagination, but more effective for being so -- by intercutting them with scenes of Sam Bowden with his affectionate family (his wife, Carol; their three kids), making The Executioners more palatable for squeamish readers.

The actualized violence in the novel is potent enough to send shivers up even the most hardened reader's spine. It's not as explicit or brutal as much of Jack Ketchum's ouevre, but a jungle-law mentality runs darkly through The Executioners, making it read like read like a logical, if restrained, influence on Ketchum's works.

Max Cady is pure malevolence, a canny, "animalistic" predator in our supposedly-civilized world -- one hundred percent nightmare, and all too believable (I've met people like Cady). I'll probably have a bad dream or two about him in the near future, but it's worth it, given how mean and lean this novel is.

Perfect suspense work from a prolific, consistent writer. Own this, already!

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The Executioners has been filmed twice, under the title Cape Fear.

The original Cape Fear was released stateside on April 12, 1962. Gregory Peck played Sam Bowden. Robert Mitchum played Max Cady. Polly Bergen played Peggy Bowden (cinematic stand-in for Carol Bowden). Lori Martin played Nancy Bowden, the Bowdens' teenage daughter. Martin Balsam played Police Chief Mark Dutton. Telly Savalas played Private Detective Charles Sievers. Page Slattery played Deputy Kersek. J. Lee Thompson directed, from a script by James R. Webb.

#

The remake, bearing the same title, was released stateside on November 13, 1991. It was directed by Martin Scorsese, and scripted by Wesley Strick (from an earlier script by James R. Webb).

Nick Nolte played Sam Bowden. Robert DeNiro played Max Cady. Jessica Lange played Leigh Bowden (cinematic stand-in for Carol Bowden). Juliette Lewis played Danielle Bowden (cinematic stand-in for Nancy Bowden). Joe Don Baker played Claude Kersek. Robert Mitchum, who played Max Cady in the original film, played Lieutenant Elgart, an honest cop, in the remake. Gregory Peck, who played Sam Bowden in the original film, played a sleazy lawyer named Lee Heller in the remake. Martin Balsam, who played Police Chief Mark Dutton in the original film, played a "Judge" in the remake.

Illeana Douglas played Lori Davis. Charles Scorsese, Martin Scorsese's father, played a "Fruitstand Customer". Catherine Scorsese, Martin Scorsese's mother, played a "Fruitstand Customer". Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, Martin Scorsese daughter, played "Danny's Girlfriend".

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