You can tell a lot about a man by the way he wears a hat. Everything from how comfortable he feels in a hat to how experienced he is at wearing different types of hats. A man can use a hat to give others insight into his current mood. A hat pulled down low on the forehead gives off a signal that a man either has something to hide or ain’t up for no tomfoolery that day; a hat cocked to the side usually indicates a pretty even mood; and a hat pushed back on the head exposing the entire face indicates that a man is inviting approach, but beware, his approachability could be due to friendliness, cockiness, or liquor. When it comes to hats though, you learn the most about a man by his etiquette in relation to it. More than his chosen occupation or the family he comes from, his manner with a hat gives insight to the man that lies within. Take heed of the man with poor hat etiquette.
That brings me to this entry’s film. The original Cape Fear from 1962 starred Gregory Peck (Sam Bowden) and Robert Mitchum (Max Cady). Cady is a deranged ex-con from Bowden’s past who stops at nothing to cause trouble for Bowden and his family. Throughout the film, Cady is seen smugly wearing a Panama hat. That hat, in itself, is almost another character in the film. Unlike most felt fedoras, a Panama is light in color, casual in nature, and cuts through a summer day like an aberrant breeze. These qualities stand in stark contrast to Cady’s foreboding nature. Even more foretelling of his evil intentions than Cady’s cloaked threats is his lack of any etiquette surrounding his hat. Cady is a brute and a shrewd one at that. There isn’t an ounce of gentleman in him.
Sam Bowden, on the other had, is a man trained in the higher orders of the mind. He is a man of reason, law, and order. He believes in the writ of habeas corpus as a cornerstone of American jurisprudence and that no man should be denied his rights without due process. Bowden has based his life on such high ideals, but he finds himself torn between remaining civilized or trusting his primordial, gut instincts. Such is the state of man.
Anyone who has ever visited Savannah, Georgia, or plans to in the future will appreciate how little certain parts of the city have changed since they were used as the backdrops to many of the scenes in this film. City hall, the squares, Forsyth Park, and the opulent Armstrong House, they’re all captured in Cape Fear. And what a treat it is to see them all decorated with well-dressed people in classic style. You’ll need everything from city suits to classic windbreakers and banded polo shirts to pull off the looks you’ll see in this one. A pair of Vibram soled shoes or boots and a cotton, khaki safari jacket should also be thrown in if you plan on a few waterway stakeouts anytime soon. Oh, and the next time you are in Savannah, run a stick along the fence surrounding the Armstrong house. You might catch a whiff of cigar smoke causing you to jerk ‘round looking for a man in a Panama hat.