To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is based on the award-winning novel by Harper Lee this film is true to the book

To Kill A Mockingbird

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There was a time when children could amuse themselves for hours with a swing made from an old tire and a piece of rope. When an old cigar box could hold all the treasures in a child’s life. The children played on, only marginally aware of the hatred, bigotry and fear that drove the adults. This is the time portrayed by the classic novel and movie ‘ To Kill a Mockingbird ’. Based on the award-winning novel by Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird is true to the book.

Taking place in the depression era south starting in the summer of 1932 To Kill a Mockingbird follows two children, Scout (Mary Badham) and her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford). Their father Atticus (Gregory Peck) is the town lawyer. When a local black man Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) is accused of raping a white woman, the town starts to focus its prejudice against Atticus of accepting the appointment to defend the man. What is incredible about To Kill a Mockingbird is most of it is seen through the eyes of the young girl Scout. We see glimpses of the adult world, just enough so we know what is really going on, but To Kill a Mockingbird is filtered through a child’s perspective. To Scout and Jem, scary is the old house down the block where Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) lives. Boo is reportedly a giant that tries to kill people, who was shut up in a dark room beneath the courthouse but now lives along with his reclusive father in a broken down old house. Children are afraid of things that go bump in the night, not the growing mob of townsfolk readily to lynch a man. One of the most dramatic and touching scenes is where a mob comes to the courthouse to get Tom, going through Atticus if necessary. Scout who recognizes one man in the mob, the father of a school friend, stops the mob. Unhindered by the fear that would be present in an adult she speaks softly, respectfully to the man asking him to say hello to his son.

What a great moment in American film. To Kill a Mockingbird is so full to such moments that no one can watch it unaffected by the contrast between the innocent children and the racist adults. About mid way through To Kill a Mockingbird the focus moves to the courtroom. The town’s black population in the upper tier, the white townsfolk in the lower, the separation visually presented. At the end when Tom loses and the white folk have left all of the black people stand in respect as Atticus passes by. Even though the story takes place in the early thirties and was filmed in 1962 it holds together today not only as great cinema but as a moving human epic.

Gregory Peck is incredible in To Kill a Mockingbird. This man has a range to his acting that far exceeds most in his craft. To think that he can portray a man of great integrity and humanity like Atticus and then take on the opposite end of the spectrum in a film like ‘Boy’s from Brazil’ just gives a glimpse at Peck’s ability. Peck got the Oscar for this one and To Kill a Mockingbird is enshrined in the AFI top 100 films list, both well deserved. Badham as Scout is fantastic. She has a command of the screen far beyond her young years. She exhibits more emotion with a simple look, a glint to the eyes or a gesture than most adults can convey with the best script possible. It’s a shame she never further her career. The contrast between innocence and prejudice works here because we believe this child’s performance. To work opposite an actor like Peck and hold you own is some accomplishment for an adult, for a child in her first film it is simply put, beyond words. This was also the first film for a young man, Robert Duvall. His role was that of the mentally challenged Boo. While he has no dialogue and only a few minutes on screen is performance brings it all together.

Robert Mulligan had his greatest work in To Kill a Mockingbird. He went on to such movies as ‘The Great Impostor’, ‘The Others’, and ‘The Man in the Moon’, but this is the rare jewel to his career. Every scene is framed and structured to perfection. In the two shots you see the reaction of one character to another, their eyes often gripped in conflict and confusion. He gives the audience comfort with the scenes with Scout and Jem, a longing for a simpler time when children looked at a world through different eyes than any adult. In the courthouse he focused on Scout crouched down looking at her father’s defense of Tom, She is peering out through slats in front of the seats where the black townsfolk gather. The look in her eyes is one of so many emotions, pride in father’s stand against the town’s attitude, uncertainly, and confusion. We can almost see the innocence being lost as the director gives us a glance into a young girl’s heart. Mulligan commands this film and obtains the best from this formidable cast. This was in the day when a director felt an obligation to be true to a great literary work. Mulligan transports you not only to another time and place but also into the character of Scout. To present either of the two powerful themes like loss of innocence a racial prejudice is difficult enough but to juxtapose them so seamlessly is a work of genius.

The disc is excellent. The audio is two channel Dolby mono. The video is non-anamorphic 1.85:1 black and white. Don’t be put off by this. The real power of the DVD format is not so much in the technical wonders but rather that it can present such incredible films like this in a lasting medium. Many great films were made before the advent of Surround sound and digital effects. This proves it. The video transfer must have been made from a print hidden away in some vault. The disc provides two commentaries, director and producer, both above average and a little documentary. I remember seeing To Kill a Mockingbird in the theaters and it brought me right back to that moment in time. When I first saw To Kill a Mockingbird then the civil rights movement was just really getting started. I thought I understood what was going on but To Kill a Mockingbird had a visceral impact on me. That same feeling overtook me some forty years later. Few movies have moved me like this one. In fact, it has become a favorite of my teenage daughter who has now read the book several times. For a film to transcend generations like this is a testimony to the timeless quality it possesses.

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