on November 17, 2003
It's easy to think "To Kill a Mockingbird" is older than it is. Released in 1962, the same year James Bond was immortalised in "Dr. No," director Robert Mulligan chose to film in black & white, despite Hollywood's rush to adopt the new Kodachrome II color film. Since the story is set in the 1930's, the classic look of the film adds weight to its historic reality.
Adapted from Harper Lee's only book, which won a Pulitzer prize, the script itself won an academy award. Added to this is a stellar cast who manage to hold their own against the amazing performance given by, Gregory Peck, an actor at the peak of his abilities. For those who also enjoy Robert Duvall's huge body of work, it may be interesting to note this film as his first, in a non-speaking but pivotal role as Boo Radley.
It would be easy to dismiss an old film that deals with the race issue in Alabama. Some might think this topic has been done to death and, to an extent, they are right. But To Kill a Mockingbird is not solely about racism. It deals with honesty, justice, fear, childhood, quick judgements and parenthood. Even the race card is dealt with fairly, without blowing things out to sensational proportions. It shows that minor, selfish decisions, which rely on the racism in others, can breed larger evils.
An adult Jean Louise 'Scout' Finch narrates much of the story but it is her father, Atticus, around which the narrative hinges. Played with subtle dignity by Peck, Atticus is a small town Lawyer who agrees to defend Tom Robinson against charges of Rape. He agrees, in the full knowledge that many of his neighbours will hate him for defending a black man and still others will expect him to put up only a token effort. Instead, Atticus does what we know he will... his best.
There is an interesting contrast between what we see of Atticus and how his two children describe him. Apparently he's too old to do anything, like play ball, and they are a bit embarrassed by his quite ways. The trial and its associated moral battles put their father squarely in the spotlight and not in a good way. He and they are attacked and ridiculed but in the end Scout and Jem see a different picture of their old Pop. A man who is strong enough to stand against hatred, and brave enough to highlight the weaknesses of flawed white girl against the strengths of an honest black man.
The name of the film is taken from one of Attcus's rules relating to using a rifle. Jem relates his father's instruction "to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird...Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don't do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in the corncribs, they don't do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us."
There are several Mockingbirds in this movie; the misunderstood Boo Radley, Tom Robins and even Atticus. For me though, the film is defined when Reverend Sykes asks Scout to stand up in the court gallery, after a failed defence, saying "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin."
on November 14, 2003
To Kill a Mockingbird, nominated for eight academy awards, is an epic story of the time honored codes of the Old South with mystery swirling around the everyday lives of Jim and Scout Finch in the form of their neighbor, Boo Radley. Gregory Peck in his role as Atticus Finch was phenomenal! Peck will always be remembered as Atticus, an entirely humble, reflective, courageous, courteous and sage man. A widower with two children, Atticus was secure and playful and very much a parent. The story focused on Atticus' views of life as he delivered them to Jem and Scout, and their interpretation of, and reactions to, those views was reflected throughout the movie. It was about a way of life and a passage from innocence to experience -- and back to innocence. The story focused on Atticus' dramatic representation of a black man accused of raping a white woman at a time when racial tension was strong, when everyone knew that black men lied, that they were immoral creatures, and that they were not to be trusted around white women.
The opening of the movie shows the cultural landscape of Maycomb, a typical small Southern town, set in the year of 1932 during the Big Depression. The streets through town were mostly dirt roads, with farmers in their horse-drawn wagons going to town. Had the movie not been in black/white, you would not have had the feel of that small, steamy town with dust eddying around the wheels of the horse-drawn wagons. There were very few cars, but you got the feeling of the time -- as if you were in the car with Atticus, when used his. The buildings were in period, as was the courtroom. The clock striking in the background during the courtoom scene had a profound effect of the measure of time. Atticus' representation of Tom Robinson and his cross-examination of the woman Tom was accused of raping and her father will forever be the most dramatic courtroom scenes of all time. The outcome will be forever dramatic, filled with a feeling of injustice, hopelessness and despair.
Through the movie you are allowed to become a part of Atticus' family and their everyday lives. You are introduced to the other characters and get to know them and the intimate details of their lives. You become a part of the story. You feel their hope, their pain, their fears. Atticus' representation of Tom Robinson may have caused Atticus the lose of some friendships, but he gained respect from the community -- blacks and whites -- that is heartwarming. No one but Atticus could have represented Tom. No one but Gregory Peck could have been Atticus.
It is a movie for all times. Never forgotten, forever watched and rewatched. It has a message for everyone that transcends time. It is a brilliant movie.
Yes, it would have been like killing a mockingbird.
on October 28, 2003
To Kill A Mockingbird was released in 1962 by Universal Studios. It is a drama in black and white with a running time of 2hrs./10mins. Directed by Robert Mulligan. This movie also won an Academy Award.
To Kill A Mockingbird takes place in an old southern town during the depression. Atticus, portrayed by Gregory Peck, is a lawyer. Atticus is a widower raising a son, Jem, portrayed by Phillip Alford and a daughter, Scout, portrayed by Mary Bedham. Atticus takes on the case of a black man accused of assaulting and raping a white woman.
The remarkableness of this film is how the children are exposed to prejudice, but keep their innocence and never become judgemental. The children's impression and admiration for their father grows throughtout the movie. Atticus shares insightful things with them such as, "you never really understand a man until you put yourself in his shoes and walk around in them, also, "it is a sin to kill a mockingbird for they only mean to please." "To Kill A Mockingbird" is enjoyable and educational and it explores stereotypical prejudices of the deep south with many emotional experiences.
I highly recommend this movie for everyone.
A bit of trivia--This is Robert Duvalls first movie. He has no lines in it, but has a high impact of emotions.
on September 7, 2003
This 1962 black and white film is based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning book "To Kill a Mockingbird". Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his wonderful performance as Atticus Finch, a lawyer in Alabama during the Depression. Atticus is appointed to defend a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Many townspeople try to get Atticus to back out of the trial but his conscience won't let him. Though Tom Robinson (the accused) is obviously innocent, the outcome of his trail is blatant proof of how prevalent prejudice is at that time. Mr. Finch's conviction to defend Tom costs him some friendships but gains him respect among the black community and the admiration of his children.
You just cannot go wrong with this movie. It shows how kids adapt to very serious situations around them but manage to keep the innocence. Gregory Peck should be a role model for us all. He shows us to stand true to our convictions no matter how hard that may seem. Winning the approval of others does not take the place of following what's in your heart. I give him a standing ovation and 5 stars.
on August 30, 2003
The source of the movie is the Pulitzer Prize novel of the same name by Harper Lee, one of the most beloved works of literature.
What is the film about? Its themes cover a wide range -- race, parenting, morality, and justice. However, all these issues can be summed up in one concept repeated over and over again: seeing a situation from the perspective of another person. Atticus says to his children that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, because all it does is sing. Through Atticus, the children come to see the mockingbird in an unjustly persecuted black man as well as in the ghostly-white neighborhood bogeyman. But in small ways, we see the mockingbird in a poor farm boy, a querulous spinster, even in a man involved in a lynching attempt and in a woman committing perjury. (One criticism: the movie does not have time to explore the surprisingly noble qualities of two of the least appealing characters in the novel, Mrs. Dubose and Mr. Raymond.) Imagine how different our world would be if we treated everyone with the dignity afforded them by Atticus Finch.
Alan Pakula gives every detail of his production exquisite attention. The screenplay by Horton Foote deftly trims details and enhances other aspects of the novel without changing its spirit. The score by Elmer Bernstein moves the heart, especially in the opening sequence that perfectly captures the playful wonder of a child. The direction by Robert Mulligan brings out the very best in his actors.
Cinema has rarely assembled such a talented cast. After MOCKINGBIRD, Gregory Peck was defined by his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the widowed lawyer explaining the complicated issues of life to his two children, leading by impeccable example to do right no matter how difficult the circumstances. Mary Badham and Phillip Alford are two of the best child actors ever. Robert Duvall, in his Hollywood debut, gives a riveting performance as a shy recluse, even though he barely speaks.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD tells all of us is that even in the confusing complexities of the real world, one can still persevere and make the world a better place. This movie is cinema at its finest.
on August 23, 2003
With the all the other heroic roles Gregory Peck played, his potryal of middle-aged Atticus Finch, with no particular good-looks to speak form, was his greatest as his sole Academy Award proves. Although, in the terms of scenes covered, the film may not be very faithful to the equally brilliant book, it retains the true spirit of the story (as well as the major scenes). To add to that, the casting is perfect; the character are all just how I imagined them. The children were particularly impressive, making their characters realistic; Mary Badham acts her role with a childish innocence, very relevant to her character of Scout, which delightful to watch.
The movie is full of wonderful scenes, with the court trial being the highlight. Gregory Peck's closing defence speech consists of some of the greatest film dialogue of all time. For readers and non-readers of Harper Lee' book, this film will be enjoyable and shame on those (particularly a certain reviewer) who cannot appreciate its message.
on August 20, 2003
Mockingbird killing revisited
Some classic movies remain relevant long after the era they portrayed passed into memory. Some should be left untouched. Except for the acting of Gregory Peck and Brock Peters, the movie version of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird seems like a slow moving story going at 33 rpm in a world that's on warp speed 40 years after the movies release.
The movie set in Black and White cinematography moves slowly with its plot introducing all the characters especially the children in little vignettes. Yet for a movie about the mistreatment of African-Americans in the 1930's rural south, there is little exposition about the key figure, Tom Robinson, the man accused of rape by a spinster white women or the lives Blacks lived in that era.
The movie glorified the courage of Atticus Finch, played stoically by Peck, who took to the unsuccessful defense of Robinson, who dies off-screen, much as the activities of the blacks in this movie are used to highlight Finch's lack of prejudice. Where the Whites in the movie are portrayed in shades of gray from unrelenting bigotry to middling tolerance, all the black characters are presented as noble savages with great dignity and idol-like appreciation for the attorney's defense. 40 years ago there was a lump in my throat, when the Black community seated in the balcony of the courthouse, stood silently to honour attorney Finch, now there was a look to my watch to see when this tale would come to an end.
Some parts of this drama still work, the attack on Finch's children by the wronged spinster's father and defense by recluse Boo Radley played by Robert Duvall, still works well as well as the sheriff's(played by Frank Overton) failure to prosecute Radley. However, even that ending is marred by the reverential liberalism that the racists death cancels out Tom Robinson's. But every black character even the Finch maid and nanny, Calpurnia, is shown with respect and anonymity. Its as if the movie's creative team were afraid to show three dimensional African American life, proving once again in the words of Nat "King" Cole, "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark."
Joseph B. Rosenberg
on August 6, 2003
I don't really feel the need to review "To Kill a Mockingbird." The editorial review and the opinion of the American Film Institute should say enough about the superiority of this work. Every actor gives a flawless performance. Atticus Finch is Gregory Peck's finest roll and his performance lives up to character. All the children are simply amazing. One performance that seems to get virtually no attention in reviews is Collin Wilcox Paxton as Mayella Violet Ewell. Ms. Paxton draws together an astounding collection of emotions and releases them in one to the most intense and frightening performances I have seen in any film. I remember seeing the film as a pre-teen (when it was new), and Ms. Paxton's anguished, screaming face is the image that is most vividly burned in my memory. She scared the bejeezers out of me.
There simply can be no reasonable rating less than 5 stars for this flawless classic. So I was curious to find out why some people would give it less!?! I scanned through all the reviews and found only a handful who, I feel, had legitimate reasons for giving 4 stars because they felt the DVD transfer was flawed.
I was amazed to find other reasons. Several school kids who had been forced to watch (and read) "To Kill a Mockingbird" who thought it was boring. Perhaps this says something about our schools, no? And maybe it says more about television.
Some people were upset because it was not in color. They were unable to get over their disappointment and see the movie as it is. It was made in black and white at a time when Technicolor ruled the screen. There is clearly a very specific artistic reason Robert Mulligan chose black and white. He made the right choice. The sense of the dusty, dry, poor depression era is beautifully reinforced by the black and white presentation.
But the most amazing review was one person that said "Racism still serves a purpose..."!! Wow! I guess there are still Bob Ewells among us!
"Too Kill a Mockingbird" is without doubt one of the finest examples of American filmmaking. Anybody (particularly any American) who can appreciate the finer things in life, and has any sensitivity to the complexities of human society, should watch this film. And it stands up well to repeat viewing, as does any truly classic work of great art.
In his later years, Peck acknowledged that Atticus Finch was his favorite role among many such as Frank Savage in Twelve O'Clock High and Phil Green in Gentleman's Agreement. Peck was the perfect choice to play Finch and received an Academy Award for best actor for that performance. Finch is the central character in Harper Lee's autobiographical novel. A widower with two young children, he supports himself and his family as an attorney in a small town in Alabama during the Great Depression. When Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) is accused of rape, Finch agrees to represent the young black man. This decision antagonizes several of the town's racist whites.
The action is seen through Lee's persona, "Scout" (Mary Badham), the younger of the two Finch children. The trial becomes the focal point of the narrative, with the courtroom becoming Finch's pulpit. His eloquent appeals for justice and racial tolerance are directed to everyone in the town, not only to members of the jury. As directed by Robert Mulligan, all members of the cast perform brilliantly. Of special interest is the screen debut of Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, a mysterious recluse who eventually becomes significantly involved in the plot. Thanks to Peck's skills under Mulligan's direction, this is not a "preachy" film. Finch is as credible to those who see this film as he is to those in the town in which he and his children live. When making word associations with the name Gregory Peck, intelligence, integrity, and dignity immediately come to mind. All three describe Finch. Credit must also be given to Horton Foote who wrote the highly literate screenplay based on Lee's autobiographical novel. This is a great film primarily because it contains a great performance by Peck and because (through Finch) it makes a power appeal to the best that is within us, whatever the color of our skin may be.
on July 7, 2003
I have often introduced favorite books and movies to my two daughters, hoping they would love them as I do. My "batting average" on this has been less than 1.000; however, I hit a home run with "To Kill a Mockingbird". Both girls, ages 11 and 14, now count it among their favorite movies.
It's hard to believe anyone could pan this movie; yet that's exactly what the famous movie critic Roger Ebert did. Apparently the movie was too "white" for his taste. For example, with the exception of Tom, hardly any lines of dialogue were accorded to black actors. Roger: this is a story told throught the eyes of a white Southern child; other books and movies have told stories from the black experience. Next,Ebert finds it amazing that Atticus believed that Tom was shot trying to escape. Of course, implies Roger, he was gunned down in cold blood by the guard. Earth to Roger! This is a work of fiction. Tom's fate was whatever the author said it was. Ebert even picked at Sheriff Tate's "let the dead bury the dead, Mr. Finch" near the end of the film, wondering how Tom and Ewell would feel about burying each other. Again -- Earth to Roger! Hello? Hello? Tate was quoting Scripture, something a person might well do in that circumstance, without first analyzing every deep repercussion to his words.
In summary: if you're a pretentious, riddled-with-white-liberal-guilt movie critic like Ebert, feel free to write drivel like his. But if you're a normal person, this is a movie to treasure.