To Kill A Mockingbird

Maycomb, Alabama, sometime in the 1930s. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is the town’s lawyer, the lone parent to children Jem (Philip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), and potentially the greatest and most noble human being ever conjured up by the mind of a writer. When he is asked to take on an impossible case – defending a young black man accused of raping a white woman in the infuriatingly racist deep south – Atticus takes on the case. The whole thing is shown from the point of view of the children and… wait… is that Robert Duvall?!? With hair?!?maxresdefault

To Kill A Mockingbird is my pick this month for both my blind spot entry for Ryan at the Matinee, and also my Most Anticipated 1001 Movie from the shortlist I created last year. It’s one of those films I’d been meaning to see for a long time – I’ve owned it on DVD for well over a year now – and now I’ve finally gotten around to it, partially inspired by the latest episode of the FilmWhys podcast, which is partially devoted to this film and I look forward to listening to it. I read the book, written by Harper Lee and published in 1960, a little over a year ago, and damn near fell in love with it. I think most people get assigned it in school, but alas that was not the case for me, instead I was lumbered with The Color Purple, of which a review shall appear of the filmed version some point next month, as part of my Least Anticipated 1001 Movies project, which should give you some idea of my feelings towards the book. However, I feel that had I been assigned Mockingbird in school or college I would not have liked it as much, so perhaps I should feel grateful.Gregory-Peck-as-Atticus-Finch-in-To-Kill-a-Mockingbird-1962As it is, and as is more often the case, I feel Mockingbird works better as a book than as a film. That’s not to say it’s a bad film – far from it in fact – it’s just the novel allows for greater depth and the capacity to include more scenes which I missed when watching the film. For example, the impact of the hole in the tree being cemented over is much more keenly felt in the book than here, where it’s almost skipped over. It’s key to a fairly significant relationship which becomes watered down as a result. Elsewhere, I found the lifestyle of the Cunninghams – neighbours of the Finch family, and whose son Walter Jr. attends school with Scout – to be poorly explained, and had I not read the book I might have been a little lost as to why things occur as they do. That being said, other areas are vastly improved upon. The character of Finch – with whom Peck won the Best Acting Oscar, questionably over Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia – has a commanding, granite-like presence, with Peck perfectly embodying Atticus’ intolerance of violence and determination to set the right example for his kids. At times the role is subtly underplayed, but I never felt like Peck was just coasting. His closing speech is beyond powerful, and moving in a manner far more affecting than on paper. The fact that it was created via one long take really adds to the effect too.tokillmockngbrd_146pyxurzElsewhere, Brock Peters is magnetic in a supporting role as Tom Robinson, the accused man who immediately, unquestionably must be innocent from the moment we lay eyes upon him. When he is called to the stand for questioning he all but blew me away with his performance, with the sweat beading on his brown. I’m not a huge fan of child actors, but the two here performed well enough. I can’t quite comprehend Badham’s Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress however. That doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me, though I’m not too well acquainted with many films from 1963, so perhaps it was a slow year for supporting female performances. Duvall, who crops up in a wordless role, seems to me to be a clear inspiration in movement terms for Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands almost thirty years later. The two both have an innocence and awkwardness about them; an inability to control the dangerous power within. This was Duvall’s first performance in a film, and as a way to begin a career it’s pretty much unparalleled.ToKillMockngbrd_133PyxurzIn general I’m not normally a fan of meandering, largely plotless films, especially those regarding life as a child – see my less than positive review of Stand By Me for proof of that – so the first act of the film, which follows the exploits of Jem, Scout and their summertime neighbour Dill (John Megna) is my least favourite. It isn’t necessarily bad, and there are some terrific scenes within it – the rabid dog is a particular highlight – but I was very glad when the court case plot became more prominent far earlier than in the original novel. The way in which we are shown the film, predominantly through the eyes of the children, is extremely well implemented. Some scenes are shot at their head height, such as an early assault on the house of Boo Radley, a legendary but secretive local figure, and during said assault, when the kids are accosted by some unseen man, the person remains concealed in shadows because the children look away or cover their eyes – if they don’t see him, neither do we. This technique is repeated again much later in the film, when a moment of action is lost to us because Scout’s view is once again impaired. I complained about this kind of thing in the recent Godzilla movie – cutting away from the action to someone watching it on TV – but here it works, adding to the sense of us seeing life through the eyes of a child.Gregory-Peck-in-To-Kill-a-MockingbirdI’ve heard elsewhere that the score has been lauded as one of the film’s most accomplished areas. I’m not a music guy, hence why I rarely discuss it in my reviews, but personally I found it overzealous and at times almost comical. The use of a glockenspiel during the raid on Boo’s porch almost ruined what would have otherwise been a very tense scene. However, fortunately it’s not enough to detract from what is a thoroughly compelling and very moralistic story. As book-to-film adaptations go, I struggle to think of many that I prefer. Were I redo-ing the Top 10 list I created last year, I think it would sit nicely between Into The Wild and High Fidelity. It’s definitely worth a watch – though I’d recommend the book first – and whilst it perhaps isn’t the shining pinnacle of perfection I’d been expecting, it’s still a very good, solid drama.

Choose Film 8/10

12 thoughts on “To Kill A Mockingbird

  1. I hold it on higher regard than you, but I suspect that’s because I didn’t read the book. So often, the movie pales in comparison. However, I do have a bit of a reversal for you. My sister read The Color Purple and hated it, but she absolutely loves the movie. Hope that helps.

  2. If I ever were to have someone watch only one film to convey what it means to be a “good man” then it would be this one. It’s O’Toole’s misfortune that his epic performance came the exact same year as Peck’s in this one. Either one would beat many a winner from other years.

    • You forgot the capital letters on Good Man. That’s how perfect Atticus is. When the guy spits in his face and stands back, prepared for Finch to punch him but he just stands there, resolutely refusing to brawl with the guy, that’s just perfect.

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed it overall, but I would rate it a bit higher than you. I absolutely love this film. It was my #1 on our top 3 book adaptations podcast. Everything about it works for me. There weren’t any parts of the book that I was particularly upset to see go because the way events unfold works very well and I think the pacing is quite good.

    I hope you enjoy the FilmWhys podcast!

    Can’t wait for your The Color Purple rant. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet.

    • I think it just fell a little short of expectations. A few more watches could easily raise the rating.

      I did enjoy the podcast, didn’t realise you were the guest so that was a welcome surprise! And I’m not sure if The Color Purple will be a total rant or not. I’m going to try and watch the film with an open mind, but I’ve got some literary grievances I’ve been waiting to get off my chest. Hopefully Marc will never read my review!

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  5. I loved this movie. Gregory Peck always delivers a great performance and here he shows some of his best talent (come to think of it I should do a piece on him).

    Granted, I think I might have been in a similar position, seeing as I have never read the book. I know at least one of the schools I went to was covering it but I might just not have gotten to that level before I left, though I do recall hearing a great deal about it.

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  7. I’m spectacularly late in commenting, so I can only beg forgiveness.

    I’m fascinated by your dislike for adult stories told from children’s point-of-view. It can be overdone for certain, but when it’s done well I think it really puts an interesting spin on many dramatic tales. As adults we get so wrapped up in our own bits of drama that we forget how they might come off to younger (and less experienced) points of view. What’s more, when I tackled this movie for a freeze frame post, I zeroed in on Scout’s facial expression when Boo finally steps into the light.

    It struck me as an amazing example the moment a child is no longer afraid…and likewise, a moment when a child begins to grow up.

    Great piece though – glad to see you dug your selection!

    • No worries about the tardiness, the fact you came back to comment means ll the more.

      It’s more that I’m not a fan of stories that predominantly feature children – I think it’s a mostly unwarranted personal bias – and that’s a main reason I’ve got little to no interest in seeing Boyhood, despite your praising of the film on your show. I appreciate what you say about Scout, and how her viewpoint adds a fresh perspective to the film, I just don’t necessarily agree that something different is always good. I think the adult perspective would have made just as good a film, it just probably wouldn’t be discussed as much. Either way, I enjoyed the film, am glad to have seen it and will definitely watch it again some time, at which point I may approve of ti even more.

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