This is the original 1962 version, not the Scorsese remake. Now that I've seen both versions, I'd have to say I enjoyed both of the them. I'm not a big student of noir (of course, I don't even know if this is noir - maybe crime thrillers is a separate group?), so I don't know how this stands up against its peers. (As a side note, I've been reading a bit from this genre as well - first, the Parker series from Richard Stark, and now, titles from the Hard Case Crime series of reprints.)
This movie plays things a lot less ambiguously than the remake. Here, Gregory Peck's lawyer was just a witness against Max Cady, where in Scorsese's version, Nick Nolte's lawyer actively screwed DeNiro's Cady. All of the marital infidelity of the remake is missing here, too. All this serves to make Peck's character more of a true victim than Nolte's. Not that he comes off crystal clean - he does hire thugs (and Telly Sevalas!) to try and run Cady out of town. But still, you never feel like he in some way had something coming to him like you did with Nolte's version.
I've never been a big Gregory Peck fan, and he didn't do much in this film to sway me - not bad, just nothing special. Robert Mitchum is the reason this film works. The elements that DeNiro would turn into cliches a few decades down the line - the Panama hat, the southern drawl, the repeated "Counselor" - here are done with just the right amount of laconic menace. And once we hit the houseboat, Mitchum becomes truly scary once he starts slithering around the swamp. DeNiro's seduction of Juliette Lewis in the remake was by far the creepiest part of that film, but Mitchum's attacks on the daughter here are more savage if less icky.
Just a little let-down at the end - Cady had the daughter and could make his escape, so why did he abandon his plan and come back to fight Bowden? Granted, he almost won the fight, but it seemed like he was still more interested in punishing Bowden than killing him at that point. But otherwise, a fine film. Four stars.