Home / World News / Opinion | The Two Releases of “Cape Fear” Couldn’t Be More Different

Opinion | The Two Releases of “Cape Fear” Couldn’t Be More Different

One of my projects for this year is to finally watch every film in Martin Scorsese’s filmography. Last week, we got to “Cape Fear,” his 1991 thriller and immediate follow-up to “Goodfellas.” But before watching Scorsese’s “Cape Fear,” I wanted to watch the original 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen and Martin Balsam, and directed by J. Lee Thompson.

Both films are wonderful, with rich performances and powerfully thrilling sequences. The 1962 film is a fairly straightforward noir, anchored by an electrifying Mitchum, who brings a touch of John Milton’s Satan to his performance: charming, charismatic and dangerously insincere. Scorsese’s take on the story is much more psychological and much more interested in the demons and desires that drive the main characters. One need only see the visuals — lurid and voyeuristic in a way that’s more reminiscent of Brian De Palma than Scorsese — to get a sense of the vibe.

Watching the movies back-to-back in this way was incredibly fruitful, both because they’re excellent films and because they comment on each other in interesting and revealing ways.

Based on the 1957 novel “The Executioners,” both releases of “Cape Fear” tell the story of Sam Bowden, a lawyer who is responsible for sending Max Cady to prison for rape. Upon his release, having served a lengthy sentence for his crime, Cady stalks and terrorizes Bowden, his wife and his daughter. When the police fail to stop Cady — who has worked carefully to avoid breaking the law — Bowden takes things into his own hands.

He hires a private investigator to track Cady (and find anything incriminating to use against him), and even goes as far as to hire paid goons to attack and injure him, in hopes of forcing Cady to flee. When none of this works, Bowden and his family escape to their houseboat on the Cape Fear River. Cady follows, and the two men square off against each other in a final confrontation.

In the 1962 film, Gregory Peck’s Bowden is an upstanding member of his community, a respected lawyer who, years earlier, testified against Cady after witnessing and stopping an assault. Like so many of Peck’s characters from this period, Bowden is the archetypal white American patriarch, secure in his status and confident of his ability to defend his home and hearth. Cady stands as a direct challenge to Bowden’s masculine dominance — their first encounter in the film, for example, is when Cady shoves his hand into Bowden’s car and turns off the ignition. The story of this film is the story of Bowden affirming his status as patriarch, of showing his family — and the world — that he can defend them from any threat that might emerge.

It is not for nothing that the climax of the movie is a fist fight between Bowden and Cady, with Bowden gaining the upper hand and then granting a small measure of mercy: He won’t kill Cady, he’ll simply send him back to prison. In the final scene, the Bowden family is together on its boat, sailing into the morning light.

The broad strokes of Scorsese’s remake are similar to that of the original film. But rather than an affirmation of the white American patriarch, Scorsese’s version is a deconstruction. His Bowden, played by Nick Nolte, only looks the part of a man with unquestionable masculine authority. In reality, he is venal and pathetic, voice practically cracking as he makes threats and attempts to establish some kind of dominance over others in his life. He did not stop and subdue Cady; he defended him in court, intentionally wrecking his defense and sending Cady to prison for 14 years.

Nolte’s Bowden, unlike Peck’s, is morally compromised from the start. And whereas Peck’s Bowden can count on the loyal support of his wife, Nolte’s Bowden, whose wife is played by Jessica Lange, cannot. Not quite estranged but not quite fully reconciled, husband and wife are still struggling with past infidelities and improprieties. Nolte’s Bowden also struggles to control the blossoming sexuality of his teenage daughter, played by a remarkable Juliette Lewis, leaving him frustrated over his impotence as a patriarch.

Cady, played in this movie by Robert De Niro, is both a threat to (what’s left of) Bowden’s confidence and an opportunity for Bowden to demonstrate mastery over his life and his family. And the story of this film is his utter failure to do either.

Cady does not just stalk and harass Bowden, he attempts — nearly successfully — to seduce his daughter as well. He makes a mockery of Bowden’s attempts to intimidate him; he assaults the assistant with whom Bowden had a flirtatious relationship; he weaponizes and turns the law against Bowden; he breaks into Bowden’s home and kills his housekeeper and private investigator; and he follows the Bowdens to their boat on the Cape Fear River (strapped to the bottom of their car the whole way), where he assaults and subdues the Bowdens and attempts to act as judge, jury and executioner for Sam Bowden’s misdeeds. Scorsese’s hyper-stylized approach to the visuals and his (to use that word again) lurid fascination with the violence inflicted on the various characters only underscores the thematic distance between the two movies.

Bowden survives in this film because of the quick thinking of his daughter, who manages to injure Cady. The final confrontation is not a heroic fistfight as much as it is a brutal beating, each pummeling the other with stones in the mud and muck. When Cady finally dies, pulled away on the wreckage of the boat, Bowden is first relieved and then horrified by what he’s done. He’s also alone; his wife and daughter — who saved themselves by jumping from the vessel — huddle together elsewhere on the bank of the river. Cady was a test for Nolte’s Bowden, and he failed it. He ends the story with whatever illusion of mastery he held stripped away from him.

I have no pat conclusion to end this with. This newsletter is for thinking aloud and I am, here, thinking out loud. What I will say though is that both “Cape Fear” films are absolutely worth your time. The later version, in particular, is a highlight of Scorsese’s career, a perfectly realized genre picture that departs from some of his usual concerns and interests but is also unmistakably his movie.

Consider this my recommendation for the weekend. Watch both films and take a minute to think about them.

My Tuesday column was my take on the idea that the United States is on the verge of a civil war. The thrust of my argument is that absent an irreconcilable material conflict within a society, versus mere division, I don’t think we have much to worry about:

The point of this compact history, with regard to the present, is that it is irresponsible to talk about civil war as a function of polarization or division or rival ideologies. If those things matter, and they do, it is in how they both reflect and shape the objective interests of the people and factions in dispute.

My Friday column was a somewhat arch take on the attacks on free speech and free discourse that are sweeping the nation’s schools, driven by a right-wing drive to stifle everything but officially approved material:

Free speech, free discourse and free debate are among the great traditions of this country. They are, at this moment, under threat from a well-organized, well-funded movement of ideologues who have used both the force of the mob and their own institutional power (including that of the state itself) to impose their edicts on the public at large.

Aziz Rana on the long history of anti-“C.R.T.” politics at The Law and Political Economy Project.

Brenda Wineapple on the transcendentalists in The New York Review of Books.

Michael Sokolove on the Democrats who gobbled up donations only to lose their races in spectacular fashion, in The New Republic.

Tressie McMillan Cottom on the Williams sisters in Harper’s Bazaar.

Clara Jeffery on the San Francisco school board recall in Mother Jones.

Naomi Kanakia on “the classics” in The Los Angeles Review of Books.

I have taken a lot of photos with my 1940s-vintage press camera but I rarely share them. This year, I’ve decided to change that, for no other reason that I don’t like my cameras to just idle on my shelf. Here’s another picture taken with the camera, a Graflex Crown Graphic. It’s of Belmont, a small and walkable neighborhood near downtown Charlottesville, Va.

I have been making this granola every week for the last two months and it is so good as a topping for yogurt or just as a snack in its own right. Feel free to use different nuts and dried fruit. This week, for instance, I used sliced almonds and dried blueberries. Next week, I’ll use pecans and dried cherries. Use whatever suits your tastes! Recipe comes from NYT Cooking.


  • 2 ¾ cups rolled oats

  • 1 cup shelled pistachios

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut chips

  • ⅓ cup pumpkin seeds

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • ½ cup light brown sugar

  • ⅓ cup maple syrup

  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

  • ¾ cup dried sour cherries


Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkinseeds and salt.

In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way.

Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container. Makes about 6 cups.

About brandsauthority

Check Also

Vandals strike at quiet walkway in South Bunbury

South Bunbury residents have been left angered by a callous act of vandalism along what …

%d bloggers like this: