If Chuck Tatum wrote for The Daily Mail, Cape Fear is the kind of story he’d gleefully exploit. Fortunately it’s mere conservative violent fantasy – a fever dream of defence/revenge excusing upstanding, square-jawed citizen Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) from the murder of his stalker, recently released ex-con Max Cady (Robert Mitchum). And such is the emphasis placed on the law (and its limitations, in this hypothetical case) that it’s hard not to read the film as right wing propaganda to “put teeth” into criminal law ahead of such pesky things as civil rights. Naturally it all boils down to a contest of masculinity anyway.
Nevertheless, it is a fairly effective thriller, the murky shadows of the black and white hitting a carefully considered mise en scene – watch out for all the fragile objects near the end. Peck and Mitchum perform their ideological constructs well, though as if by way of apology they appear on reversed sides of the duel in the 1991 remake.