To Kill a Mockingbird Review
There are some movies that you watch once and instantly forget. Others, such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ you see once and then remember for the rest of your life. This is a movie where we witness a good man defending another in court, who is being persecuted due to the colour of his skin.
Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, the small town American lawyer who takes on the case of a black man accused of molesting a white woman – and so stands up against the bigoted townsfolk. Taken from the novel by Harper Lee, which many will have read as part of the National Curriculum at School, it’s a hugely involving story that pulls in the audience as most of us still like to see someone doing what is right in a courageous manner and showing great integrity.
Throughout his movie career, Peck was always playing a man with a conscience – the quiet, modest man who got on with the job in hand. This time around, it earned him a well deserved Best Actor Academy Award. He’s always very watchable and in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ had to appear with several young children who could quite easily have stolen the movie from under his nose. The fact that he remains the star to this day is a testament to his acting ability.
I first saw this movie as a teenager and the unfairness it depicted made my blood boil. Watching it again recently on American Region free Blu-ray had exactly the same effect on me. While I remembered the emotions it gave rise to, I had completely forgotten that this was the first movie of Robert Duvall who delivers an excellent performance, as the reclusive Boo Radley, without saying a word. It’s an acting master class in the few short scenes he inhabits.
The children in the movie were cast by director Robert Mulligan, deliberately avoiding ‘Hollywood kids’ who’d been to stage school as he wanted fresh performances for his film. Scout, played by Mary Badham and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) provide the eyes and ears of the story as they have day to day adventures with their friend Dill (John Megna). They give the movie some relief from the rather heavy courtroom scenes – and so lend the film a better balance to make it appeal to a wider audience.
The pacing of the film is leisurely by today’s standards, yet it holds the audience’s attention throughout. There is a hook of sorts in every sequence and a great deal of charm that keeps you interested. The story embraces a host of topics including racism, tolerance, family values, coming of age – all of which feature in other movies, but here they are ingredients in the recipe that produces a very well baked cake indeed.
This film has worry, humour, danger, nice people and unpleasant people – so it depicts a slice of life in a small American town. Courtroom scenes were never my number one choice of viewing, but as you see Atticus Finch unravel the mystery of who attacked the white woman, you hold your breath. His conclusions are logical and explained clearly to the court, as well as to the movie audience – so what then happens leaves you dumbfounded.
Many would claim that the film does not do full justice to Harper Lee’s book, but it conveys the feeling of it very well. Anyone who has not read the book will still come away from the movie feeling the anger and ultimately side with the belief that sometimes you have to follow your conscience rather than the letter of the Law.
The success of the film can be measured by the Oscar wins and nominations it garnered around the time of its release (1962). Not only did Gregory Peck pick up the Best Actor award, the picture also won Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Art Direction. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Score. The fact that it failed to win in those categories is hard to believe. The movie comes to us on Blu-ray as part of the ‘100 Years of Universal’ raft of releases and it’s an excellent early entry in the list of titles that are on their way. Anyone who has, as yet, to see ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ now has a chance to see it in a format that stands up to big screen projection. It’s an opportunity to try to recreate the atmosphere of viewing it in a cinema – just as it was originally intended.