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The Gregory Peck Cameo You May Have Missed In Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear

John D. MacDonald's 1957 novel "The Executioners" would eventually inspire two films: the 1962 classic "Cape Fear," with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, as well as a 1991 remake of the same name, starring Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro (CrimeReads).

Both films have the same premise — a former criminal, now out of prison, vows revenge on the attorney who put him there — but they have some key differences. The lawyer, Sam Bowden, is a much more morally ambiguous character in the 1991 film as embodied by Nolte, where Peck's version of Bowden is simply a devoted family man. Meanwhile, Mitchum plays psychopath Max Cady with more restraint than DeNiro's intense, deranged performance. It's also crucial that Cady drowns in the 1991 film's finale, while the 1962 ending depicts the character simply going back to prison.

The 1991 "Cape Fear" may have made some big changes to the story, but director Martin Scorsese did get Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum to return from the original movie for two goosebump-inducing cameos.

Peck played Cady's lawyer

Both lead actors of the 1962 "Cape Fear," Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, hopped onto the 1991 remake as a small homage to the original film. However, their casting also speaks to how Scorsese wanted to give the story more moral ambiguity. Where Peck was playing an upright lawyer in the first version, Peck was cast, in an ironic twist, as Lee Heller, Max Cady's slimy defense attorney, for the newer film. Heller helps Cady file a restraining order against Bowden and even threatens to get him disbarred. Mitchum, meanwhile, was on the right side of the law in the remake. The veteran actor is now a cop, Lieutenant Elgart, who tries to help Bowden with nailing Cady. However, even this character encourages Bowden to try extralegal methods for bringing his nemesis down.

These performances could merely have been cute cameos, but Scorsese also uses these characters to emphasize how no one is entirely innocent or guilty. An actor who once played an iconic villain can also become a likable cop, while Peck, who usually starred as truly upstanding characters, is anything but trustworthy as Heller. Peck and Mitchum's acting would only emphasize the message of the "Cape Fear" remake: nothing is black and white.