“Stand up, your father’s passing”
While enjoying many novels that I read during my stint in the public school system, Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird was always one of the most memorable. The story was beautifully told and showed a great example of moral fiber. Atticus Finch is the epitome of class and trust. He sees past age, race, intelligence and instead views the soul. After watching this film you might start believing that people really are inherently good.
Perusing through the list of films that director Robert Mulligan sat behind the camera on shows me that maybe this film was his masterpiece. I have never seen nor heard of the rest of his filmography, (not to say he doesn’t have any other gems in that list, I just wouldn’t be able to tell you their names). He seems to be a very capable director, however, as the movie is shot quite well. The contrast of the black and white during many night scenes is effective and he does a good job framing the actors as they do their thing. There aren’t any effects shots or skewed angles; Mulligan allows his cast to carry the film and that is a good move. The story is strong and the words are what matter most.
Gregory Peck is just as good as everyone says he is here. He embodies Atticus completely, as a strong willed man of the community, a shrewd and moral man of the law, and a caring, loving father. Peck displays the many facets of his character as he treats all with the same care. His children call him by his first name and wander around the town alone. To Atticus, they are just as independently responsible as him—how can he second-guess his own children? Speaking of those children, it is hard to believe that both Scout and Jem are played by first-time actors. The kids, Mary Badham and Phillip Alford, are amazing. They act well beyond their years, showing the teaching that goes on at home behind the scenes. Not only are they intelligent, but they can watch out for themselves. Scout is not afraid to pick a fight if she believes someone close to her has had his/her honor called into question, and no matter how much Jem chides his sister for being too much of a girl, he is always there to defuse hostile situations and make sure his sibling is unharmed. Both child actors are very effective in their line delivery and most noticeably in their facial expressions. It sometimes appears that their reactions are about to go over the top, but they have the ability to keep it all grounded to reality. The most fun is their stubborn fear of neighbor Boo Radley, whom they’ve never met. Although shown very briefly, and without a single line of dialogue, Robert Duvall, also making his film debut, (which surprised me as I thought his premiere was THX-1138 since it almost seemed like a collegiate film, but in fact was filmed nine years later), is very convincing as the troubled young man who has come out of seclusion to help resolve the incident which takes place at the movie’s finale. Talk about speaking and emoting through only your body language; one knows exactly what Boo is thinking thanks to Duvall’s performance.
To Kill a Mockingbird never drags throughout its duration. Even for someone who has read the novel, everything occurs with suspense and spontaneity. While yes, the climax in the courthouse is the shining moment, all that bookends the sequence is just as enjoyable. Gregory Pecks’ closing statement to the jury is magnificent however. His powerful performance almost made me want to stand with those watching on screen as he left through the door upon the verdict. Atticus Finch truly is the greatest screen hero of all time.
To Kill a Mockingbird 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½