So it turns out, they don’t make men like they used to. If you’re a dude under 60, Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum have done craps manlier than you and every bloke you know. The second these two badasses come face to face, you know it’ll be an epic match up. And even better, that initial standoff happens almost immediately. Which is one of the many strong points if Cape Fear, it’s not here to mess around.
Peck plays lawyer Sam Bowden, the man of morals who eight years ago gave testimony that sealed the conviction of Mitchum’s Max Cady, a sociopath who takes whatever and hurts whoever he wants, never once stopping to even consider what gives him the right to do so. After a stretch in the big house, Mitchum approaches Peck in the courthouse carpark and makess his vengeful intentions pretty clear from the get go. This movie seriously has no intention of starting slow, it’s out of the gates and racing from the get go.
Straight away, Peck calls in a favour from his police chief friend who’s more than happy to enact little gross misuse of power and start harassing Mitchum. But Mitchum’s smart, he’s always just on the right side of the law, meaning Peck is more and more seen as the antagonist. Soon, Peck is compromising is morals and integrity in an attempt to keep up with Mitchum’s increased harassment.
What’s that you say? You’re not overwhelmed by the engine oil musked manliness of a Peck / Mitchum combo? “Fuck you”, says Cape Fear as it does a one handed push up. “How about I throw in some Telly Sevalas?”, it growls, taking a belt of scotch and repressing its emotions. Oh yeah, you better believe this movie doubles down on the masculinity and transforms the Peck / Mitchum dude-duo into a Peck / Mitchum / Sevalas holy trinity of testosterone when Peck hires Sevalas’ PI, Charlie Sievers.
But it’s more than just the balls out blokiness of these three going head to head to (not yet bald Sevalas) head. The movie is sure to throw in a little passive aggressive misogyny too, like when Peck tells his teenage daughter, “It’s a mistake to teach women how to tell time. They always hold it against you.”
By starting at full throttle and only getting more intense from there, Cape Fear really is one of the most effective thrillers I’ve ever seen. And even though the ending is ultimately pretty predictable the way it gets there more than makes up for it. It even manages to work in a pretty interesting message about the importance of the law, even when you don’t like the people it’s protecting. This is summed up by Police Chief Mark Dutton (Mark Balsam), “Either we have too many laws, or not enough”.