Gregory Peck (The Yearling and Roman Holiday) is southern lawyer Atticus Finch who, during the depression era, defends a black man (Brock Peters, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) accused of rape. Meanwhile, Finch deals with the difficulties of being a single parent to his two children (Mary Badham and Philip Alford).
Reaction & Thoughts:
To Kill a Mockingbird is a movie that doesn’t need an introduction. And a rare case where film and novel are both equally great. Today is hard to separate the two — they complement each other rather well.
The film is so richly textured and so full of eloquently expressed ideas that I always succumb willingly to its indisputable magic. Sensitively directed by Robert Mulligan (Summer of ’42) from a screenplay by Horton Foote (Tender Mercies) based on the 1960 novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird succeeds in lighting America’s darkest corners honestly and tenderly.
The film’s triumph primarily resides in its ability to be multiple things at once. First, it is a story about discrimination and its devastating effects on a small community. The film also deals with the contradictions of nostalgia — we mourn our childhood, yet we are happy to put our past behind us. Finally, the film works as a coming-of-age fable. It even works as a thrilling courtroom drama.
To Kill a Mockingbird preserves the book’s most effective device; the story is told from the children’s point of view. There is a conscious attempt to supply most of the information through the eyes of the kids. It’s a powerful approach that helps humanize the situations. As the kids become observers, so do we. Suddenly, their questions become our questions, and we are forced to participate in the shattering of their innocence — an effective way to get a message across.
Gregory Peck is fantastic. His final summation speech is simply brilliant. There is also a great moment near the end of the film that pretty much demonstrates how good Peck is in the role. Director Mulligan trusts Peck’s genius so much that he shoots the actor from behind. You don’t see his face and you still know exactly what he is thinking!
The kids — newcomers Badham and Alford — are terrific too. They look and feel like real children. Film debuts of William Windom (Dr. Seth Hazlitt on TV’s Murder, She Wrote), Alice Ghostley (Esmeralda on TV’s Bewitched), and Robert Duvall (The Godfather), who plays Arthur “Boo” Bradley. Narrated by Kim Stanley (Frances).
Elmer Bernstein’s (The Magnificent Seven and An American Werewolf in London) powerfully evocative music score adds the perfect touch of bittersweet nostalgia to the movie. I also loved Stephen Frankfurt’s clever title montage.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
To Kill a Mockingbird is like a symphony in which all instruments are fully synchronized. This is a true American classic. It won three Oscars, including one for Peck as Best Actor. For the uninitiated, this is a real discovery. B&W, 129 minutes, Not Rated.