|TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)|
|"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."|
|Time: 129 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Won Academy Award for Best Makeup. Nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Dramatic Score.
I'm embarrassed to say that I only recently saw this film classic for the first time. I always meant to watch it, but just never got around to it. After seeing how brilliant it is, I'm sorry I didn't get to it sooner. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a film that is unfortunately just as relevant today as it was in 1962. The perfect direction and amazing acting make it a timeless piece, one whose tale of intolerance still grips the soul. I remember being overwhelmed by the book when I read it in high school and have to say I have never seen a more true adaptation of a novel on screen. Everything is just as I once imagined. Peck is the perfect Atticus Finch intelligent, decent, loving and unwilling to stand for injustice. The story is told through the eyes of Scout, his 6-year-old daughter played by Mary Badham, who gives the performance of a lifetime. She's the Haley Joel Osment of her time. Their star presence coupled with this brilliant story combine to make an engrossing film you can't take your eyes from. It's rare for me to be so pulled in by a film that I stop everything else I'm doing to watch. Even the opening credit sequence was entrancing.
The film opens in the summer of 1932 in the small southern town of Maycomb. We are given some background by the voice of an older Scout, fondly looking back on those days of her childhood when an explosive trial divided the town and changed everything. Scout (Badham) and her older brother Jem (Alford) are the pride and joy of their father's eye. They both love and respect Atticus and he gives them the same consideration. It's hard for him to raise his children alone his wife died several years earlier but he does the best he can, trying to instill in them basic moral values. They strike up a friendship with Dill Harris (Megna), a boy visiting during the summer, trying to scare him with stories of Boo Radley (Duvall), a crazy young man supposedly locked in the basement of a house down the street. Atticus tells them time and again to stay away from the Radley house and leave poor Boo alone, but the mystery is too irresistible. They bait each other all summer, trying to get a peek at the infamous Boo. Meanwhile, Atticus is given the dangerous job of defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused by white trash farmer Bob Ewell (Anderson) of raping and beating his daughter Mayella (Paxton).
The reason the case is dangerous for Atticus is because he refuses to believe Tom is guilty based merely on hearsay and plans to defend him to the best of his abilities. This does not go over well with many of the townspeople, who would prefer to settle the matter with a lynching instead of a trial. Atticus tries to keep the ugliness of the trial and its blatant bigotry from touching his children, but kids can be cruel which Scout promptly learns when she begins school for the first time. Of course, she's no saint either, getting into a fight with one of her classmates who calls her father a rather derogatory term. Atticus understands why she's angry and is pleased that she's trying to defend him, but physical violence is no way to combat ignorance and intolerance. He sets the example for both Scout and Jem by refusing to give in to Ewell's barbs and threats to let the case go. The fall and winter plod by without incident. Summer returns and so does Dill Harris just in time for the trial. Of course, a little courtroom drama doesn't stop their quest for a look at Boo. Tension is high and Tom's life is on the line. Atticus bravely sits out the evening outside the jail, daring anyone to shortcut justice.
Ewell and his compatriots try, but the arrival of Scout, Jem and Dill sets them back on their heels. Scout's innocent friendliness causes the men to rethink their course of action. The entire town turns out for the trial, including Jem, Scout and Dill, unknown to Atticus. They sit in the upstairs gallery with the black folk, who have nothing but respect for Atticus. It doesn't take long, or much effort, for Atticus to poke serious holes in the testimony of the Ewells. A doctor was never called to corroborate the rape and Mayella's testimony is evasive and contradictory. However, because of her race she is believed without question. When Tom Robinson is finally called to testify on his own behalf, it becomes clear that he is innocent and a victim of Ewell's vicious prejudice. His admission that he felt sorry for Mayella proves to be his undoing. In his final statement, all Atticus can do is ask the jury to be upstanding men and do what they know is right. Unfortunately for Tom, the jury isn't filled with men of Atticus's ilk. His fate is in God's hands and it looks like He's looking the other way. The injustice infuriates both Atticus and his children, but at least they tried, remaining unyielding to the ignorance of others. This attitude inevitably places the children in danger, yet brings a surprising ending to their summer quest.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a film of staunch courage and moral outrage, luring you into agreement with its ideas through subtlety and intelligence. It's clear from the beginning that Atticus is a cut above other men, born, as one of the character's points out, "to do our unpleasant jobs for us." He defends Tom Robinson because that's his job and every man, black or white, deserves fair representation, not an idea that would make one very popular in that day and age. What keeps Atticus from being self-righteous and arrogant is Peck's wonderfully quiet and simple performance. He plays Atticus like a regular guy, not a hero, which makes his actions all the more poignant and meaningful. Even though it's an impressive turn and the moral center of the film, I still can't believe the Academy gave him the Oscar over Peter O'Toole's breathtaking portrayal of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. I guess they wanted to give MOCKINGBIRD an important award since it clearly wasn't going to win many in the wake of LAWRENCE. I have never seen better performances by children than those given by Badham and Alford, especially considering it was the first feature film for both of them. Duvall makes a striking appearance as Boo in his inaugural film role. You've never seen him quite like this.
It's easy to say that this film is great because it comes from great material, but adaptations are not generally as good as the original works. The rare few capture the tone and emotions of the novel, bringing it alive visually and solidifying your imagination into reality. Most fail to capture the spirit of the piece, stealing the story and characters but leaving the heart and voice behind. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is very much one of the former group. It's visual style, powerful, yet understated story and first-rate acting make it a must-see for every serious movie lover. The fact that racism and injustice are alive and well today makes its subject matter timeless and realistic. I look forward to enjoying it over and over again. Do yourself a favor and seek it out. Quality filmmaking like this doesn't come around very often.