From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My fifteenth review was for the 1962’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird directed by Robert Mulligan. Enjoy!
There are those films everybody has to see; 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Robert Mulligan, is one of these. To Kill a Mockingbird figures among the BFI List of the 50 Movies You Should See Before the Age of 14. It’s one of those films almost everybody ends up seeing in their life, and for good reason. If you’re a curious teen who hasn’t watched many classic films, come explore the benefits of To Kill a Mockingbird.
To Kill a Mockingbird is an adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel of the same name. The book is known as a classic of American literature and a favorite for many. (Sadly, Harper Lee recently passed away on February 19, 2016 at the age of 89.) Mulligan’s movie is still known today as one of the best adaptations of a novel.
Before going further you might like to know what the film is about. To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the early ’30s in the fictional town of Maycomb. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a lawyer who has accepted to defend the case of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man, accused of having raped a white woman. Atticus is a widower with two children: Jean Louise or “Scout” (Mary Badham) and Jeremy, “Jem” (Phillip Alford). On their side, the children and their new friend Charles Baker “Dill” Harris (John Megna) are interested in their father’s business, but also in the mysterious house of Mr. Radley where legends say that his son, the dangerous “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall) is locked up in the basement, eats cats and rats, and never sees the sunlight.
To Kill a Mockingbird was both a commercial and critical success on its release. The film won three Oscars: Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay (Horton Foote), and Best Art Direction (Henry Bumstead, Alexander Golitzen, and Oliver Emert). Believe me, all three wins are highly deserved. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Mulligan), Best Cinematography-Black and White (Russell Harlan), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mary Badham, ten at the time) and Best Music (Elmer Berstein).
To Kill a Mockingbird was, of course, a revolutionary film at the time, fighting racial prejudices in an America that had started escaping from them. In the ’60s, anti-prejudice films were in vogue with examples like A Patch of Blue (1965) or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967). Some directors had the desire to speak and denounce this social problem, but there was still a lot to do. The context of To Kill a Mockingbird and the story itself, is different. Here, we are in the ’30s, in a small village, where, of course, defending a black man is not well seen by everybody in the town.
Apart from its main theme, To Kill a Mockingbird needs to be seen for Atticus Finch. Why? It’s simple; he is the incarnation of the perfect man and perfect father. He is fair, calm, wise, respectful, always find a way to explain things, understand people’s problems, and doesn’t have prejudices. Too bad he is only a fictional creation, we need more people like him in our society. It explains why Atticus Finch figures at the top of the AFI’s 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains list. Harper Lee’s father inspired the character. Gregory Peck said it was his favorite role. Peck gives one of the finest, if not, the finest performance of his career. His Oscar was certainly deserved. His acting is well calculated; he doesn’t overact and is natural. He suits Harper Lee’s character perfectly.
To Kill a Mockingbird is told from a child’s point of view with Scout telling us the story. The film is as much focused on Atticus Finch as it is on the children. If Atticus Finch is the soul of the film, the children are his eyes. Scout, Jem and Dill are all respectfully played by talented child actors: Mary Badham, Phillip Alford and John Megna, who make the film alive, and their chemistry with Atticus is a real treat.
There are several other interesting characters and actors, including Robert Duvall in his first credited on-screen role and Boo Radley, without revealing too much about him is one of the most intriguing characters in movie history. Just like the children, we’re avid to discover a little bit more about him as we watch.
To Kill a Mockingbird’s brilliance also resides in the script. Atticus Finch’s speech during Tom Robinson’s trial allowed Gregory Peck to, once more, express his talent. It’s a very humble speech, without any exaggerated theatricality, but full of meaning. It’s unforgettable when Gregory Peck, with his deep voice inspiring the respect, asks to the jury “In the name of God, do your duty.” How can we forget the respect the African-American people in the audience show for him? We haven’t often seen such touching and poignant cinematographic moments.
On a more technical aspect, the film is worth seeing for its beautiful black and white cinematography which, in its poetic way, perfectly expresses what the movie is about. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a metaphor I’ll let you discover by yourself. The music, fantastically composed by Elmer Bernstein, also reaches us for similar reasons. It’s simple music, not too orchestral, but reflects the atmosphere of the film.
As a matter of fact, the main quality of this film is that everything is in harmony: the acting, the characters, the story, the music. The common humility within makes it stand out from other movies. Simplicity can sometimes be the best solution.
If you haven’t seen To Kill a Mockingbird yet, make sure to do so, whatever your age. You’ll learn a lot from this film on many levels and it teaches you how to understand life and how to live it. It’s a real inspiration.