Play It Again – Cape Fear

Play It Again – Cape Fear. Starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Polly Bergen. Directed by J. Lee Thompson. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.


Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!). 

Topping the list of creepy ex-cons you don’t want to run into is Robert Mitchum’s cool and collected Max Cady in 1962 thriller Cape Fear. After being released from an eight-year prison sentence, Cady hunts down the attorney who helped lock him behind bars, Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck). He begins to stalk Sam’s family, unnerving him, his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen), and their teenage daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). He poisons their dog and attacks a local woman before Sam, police chief Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam), and private detective Charlie Sievers (Telly Savalas) team up to run Cady out of town.

The film, adapted by James R. Webb from John D. MacDonald’s novel The Executioners, and directed by J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone), culminates in a tense standoff when Sam lures Cady to his houseboat in Cape Fear to end this game of cat and mouse once and for all. Beginning as an upstanding citizen and father, Sam begins to sink to Cady’s depths as the psychological warfare takes its toll.


While Peck is faultless as the straight-laced attorney, it is Robert Mitchum who carries the flick with his deadpan delivery and calculated persona. In Cady he has created an entirely unlikable and irredeemable character; a villain who has gone on to rank amongst cinema’s worst, and who deserves all that comes his way.

Today’s viewers might consider the picture tame by modern standards, due to both the level of violence and language (especially as it underwent several strict edits before its initial release, primarily to remove the word rape). Similarly, comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake, starring Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte as Cady and Bowden, further highlight the original’s lack of reliance on brutal force, as well as its skilful use of tension to earn its thrills. Cape Fear continually tips its hat to Hitchcock, from its score by Bernard Herrmann to Sam Leavitt’s black and white photography, which perfectly captures the shadows of the town and its people, illuminating both the evil and the good.


Cape Fear is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: