On this day 58 years ago a novel came out that changed American literature forever; even winning a Pulitzer Prize for the author Harper Lee. Two years later the film adaption of To Kill a Mockingbird came out on Christmas Day, and much like the novel was a huge success. This is actually my mother’s favorite book and for a very long time did her best to convince me to watch the film. I eventually did, and I absolutely loved it. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film here is the spoiler alert. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.
Over the course of three years during the 1930’s Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout (Mary Badham, nominated for an Oscar for her part) and her brother Jeremy Atticus Finch aka “Jem” (Phillip Alford) discover their (fictional) town of Maycomb, AL is not as good as it appears to be. They spend their days playing outside with their friend Dill (John Megna) and spying on their neighbor Arthur Radley aka “Boo” (Robert Duvall) who has not stepped out of his house in years; the town has multiple horrible stories on why that is. Scout and Jem live with their widowed father (whom they call by his first name by his request) Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck who won an Oscar for his part), the town lawyer who believes people should be treated fairly regardless of their background. Atticus defends many people in town and if they have little money takes in produce instead. Atticus is assigned a case where he defends Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) a black man accused of raping and beating Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox) a white woman. Atticus does what he can to protect Tom; including sleeping outside his cell to stop a mob from lynching him which Scout inadvertently stops when she recognizes one of the men Atticus takes produce from. However Scout and Jem face problems in school because of their father’s actions. When the trial (which Scout and Jem watch from the rafters) begins Atticus sets out to prove Tom couldn’t have committed the rape; among the evidence is Tom’s left arm is crippled, but Mayella claimed he used his left hand to chock her out. Atticus points out that Mayella’s father Bob (James Anderson) is left handed and she never went to a doctor to confirm her story of rape. Unfortunately, despite Atticus’s best efforts (including an incredible closing argument Peck shot in one take) the verdict seemed to be in before the trail began. This is about as far as I should go without spoiling the rest of the movie.
To call this an absolute classic would be an understatement. Everything from the acting, writing (which the movie follows close if not exactly like the book), cinematography and even shooting the film in black and white was nothing less than phenomenal. Peck was, and is still considered to be, one of the finest actors to ever grace the big screen and this is arguably his best known role. Atticus is often listed as one of the best fictional characters ever created, and it would be very hard to argue otherwise. Mary Badham’s performance as Scout is remarkable as she grows up; at first not understanding what is happening (often escalating to fighting or talking to Atticus), but eventually comes to terms with it. Phillip Alford is fantastic as big brother Jem as he explains what is happening to Scout as well as protecting her. Brock Peters is great as Tom Robinson and the rest of the cast is wonderful; interesting fact this was Robert Duvall’s first credited film role. The film won three Oscars: Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Art Direction and Best Adapted Screenplay, while it was nominated for Best Director, Cinematography, Actress in a Supporting Role, Score and Picture. It has also been on multiple American Film Institute 100 lists: Atticus Finch as the #1 hero, #17 of film scores, #2 on 100 Cheers, top 10 Courtroom Drama films at #1 #34 on the 100 movies list and finally moving up to #25 on the 10th Anniversary 100 Movies list.
I would call To Kill a Mockingbird a must watch especially if you are reading the book for school; although do not use it for a book report your teacher will know. Even if you are not, or have not, read the book the film is still an amazing work and a big recommendation from me.