To Kill a Mockingbird
Drama, Adventure | 115 mins | Released: 1962
Director: Robert Mulligan
Starring: Gregory Peck, Kim Stanley, Jon Megna, Frank Overton, Robert Duvall, Alice Ghostly, Brock Peters
Our Rating: 8
Black & White
The film’s young protagonists, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford), live in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1930s. The story covers three years, during which Scout and Jem undergo changes in their lives. They begin as innocent children, who spend their days happily playing games with each other and spying on Arthur “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall), who has not been seen for many years by anybody as a result of never leaving his house and about whom many rumors circulate. Their widowed father, Atticus (Gregory Peck), is a town lawyer and has a strong belief that all people are to be treated fairly, to turn the other cheek, and to stand for what you believe. He also allows his children to call him by his first name. Early in the film, the children see their father accept hickory nuts, and other produce, from Mr. Cunningham for legal work because the client has no money. Through their father’s work as a lawyer, Scout and Jem begin to learn of the racism and evil in their town, aggravated by poverty; they mature quickly as they are exposed to it.
(See Gregory Peck in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” here)
The local judge appoints Atticus to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), against an accusation of rape of a white teenaged girl, Mayella Ewell. Atticus accepts the case. Jem and Scout experience schoolyard taunts for their father’s decision. Later, a lynch mob, led by Mr. Cunningham, tries to lynch Robinson over Atticus’ objections. Scout, Jem and their friend, Dill, interrupt the confrontation. Scout, unaware of the mob’s purpose, recognizes Cunningham as the man who paid her father in hickory nuts and tells him to say hello to his son, who is her schoolmate. Cunningham becomes embarrassed and the mob disperses. It is undisputed that Tom came to Mayella’s home, at her request, to assist her with chopping up a chifforobe. It is also undisputed that Mayella showed signs of having been beaten around that time. Among Atticus’ chief arguments, he points out that Tom is crippled in his left arm, and that the supposed rapist would have had to make extensive use of his left hand in assaulting Mayella before raping her. At the same time Atticus demonstrates that Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell, is left handed, implying that he – rather than Tom – was the one who beat Mayella. Atticus also states that the girl had not even been examined by a doctor to check for signs of rape after the supposed assault. In his closing argument Atticus asks the all white, male jury to cast aside their prejudices and instead focus on Tom’s obvious innocence. In taking the stand in his own defense, Tom denies he attacked Mayella, but states she kissed him. He testifies he voluntarily assisted Mayella because he felt pity for her due to her circumstances. In a town where whites are viewed as superior to blacks, Tom’s sympathy for Mayella dooms his case, and he’s found guilty.
Atticus arrives home to discover from the sheriff that Tom has been killed by a deputy during his transfer to prison. The sheriff states that according to this deputy, Tom was trying to escape. The deputy reported that Tom ran like a “crazy” man before he was shot. Atticus and Jem go to the Robinson family home to advise them of Tom’s death. Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, appears and spits in Atticus’ face while Jem waits in the car. Atticus wipes his face and leaves.
Autumn arrives and Scout and Jem attend an evening Halloween pageant at their school. Scout wears a ham costume, portraying one of Maycomb county’s products. At some point during the pageant, Scout’s dress and shoes are misplaced. She’s forced to walk home without shoes and wearing her ham costume. While cutting through the woods, Scout and Jem are attacked by an unidentified man who has been following them. Scout’s costume, like an awkward suit of armor, protects her from the attack but restricts her movement and severely restricts her vision. Their attacker is thwarted and overcome by another unidentified man. Jem is knocked unconscious and Scout escapes unharmed in a brief but violent struggle. Scout escapes her costume in time to see a man carrying Jem home. Scout follows and runs into the arms of a concerned Atticus. Doc Reynolds comes over and treats the broken arm of an unconscious Jem.
When Sheriff Tate asks Scout what happened, she notices Arthur “Boo” Radley standing behind the bedroom door in the corner of Jem’s room; Scout recognizes Boo as the person who came to their aid against Ewell in the woods. Boo is also apparently the man who carried Jem home. The sheriff reports Bob Ewell was discovered dead at the scene of the attack with a knife in his ribs. Atticus assumes Jem killed Ewell in self-defense. Sheriff Tate, however, believes that Boo killed Ewell in defense of the children and tells Atticus that to drag the shy and reserved Boo into the spotlight for his heroism would be “a sin.” To protect Boo, Sheriff Tate suggests the conclusion that Ewell “fell on his knife.” Scout draws a startlingly precocious analogy to an earlier lesson from the film (hence its title) when she likens any public outing of Boo to the killing of a mockingbird. The film ends with Scout considering events from Boo’s point of view, and Atticus watching over the unconscious Jem.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a 1962 American drama film directed by Robert Mulligan. The screenplay by Horton Foote was based on the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Harper Lee. It stars Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch and Mary Badham in the role of Scout.
The film, widely considered to be one of the greatest ever made, earned an overwhelmingly positive response from critics, and was a box office success as well, earning more than 10 times its budget. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Peck, and was nominated for eight, including Best Picture.
In 1995, the film was listed in the National Film Registry. It also ranks twenty-fifth on the American Film Institute’s 10th anniversary list of the greatest American movies of all time.
Gregory Peck’s performance became synonymous with the role and character of Atticus Finch. Alan J. Pakula remembered hearing from Peck when he was first approached with the role: “He called back immediately. No maybes. […] I must say the man and the character he played were not unalike.” Peck later said in an interview that he was drawn to the role because the book reminded him of growing up in La Jolla, California. “Hardly a day passes that I don’t think how lucky I was to be cast in that film,” Peck said in a 1997 interview. “I recently sat at a dinner next to a woman who saw it when she was 14 years old, and she said it changed her life. I hear things like that all the time.”
The 1962 softcover edition of the novel opens with the following: “The Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama reminds me of the California town I grew up in. The characters of the novel are like people I knew as a boy. I think perhaps the great appeal of the novel is that it reminds readers everywhere of a person or a town they have known. It is to me a universal story – moving, passionate and told with great humor and tenderness. Gregory Peck”
Harper Lee, in liner notes written for the re-release of the movie on DVD by Universal wrote: “When I learned that Gregory Peck would play Atticus Finch in the film production of To Kill a Mockingbird, I was of course delighted: here was a fine actor who had made great films – what more could a writer ask for? …The years told me his secret. When he played Atticus Finch, he had played himself, and time has told all of us something more: when he played himself, he touched the world.”
Upon Peck’s death in 2003, Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson in the film version, quoted Harper Lee at Peck’s eulogy, saying, “Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself.” Peters concluded his eulogy stating, “To my friend Gregory Peck, to my friend Atticus Finch, vaya con Dios.”
Peters remembered the role of Tom Robinson when he recalled, “It certainly is one of my proudest achievements in life, one of the happiest participations in film or theater I have experienced.” Peters remained friends not only with Peck but with Mary Badham throughout his life.
To Kill A Mockingbird is Robert Duvall’s big-screen debut, as the misunderstood recluse Boo Radley. Duvall was cast on the recommendation of screenwriter Horton Foote, who met him at Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City where Duvall starred in a 1957 production of Foote’s play, The Midnight Caller.
Awards and honors:
The film won three Academy Awards out of the eight for which it was nominated.
* Academy Award for Best Actor — Gregory Peck (The award was presented to Peck by Sophia Loren)
* Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay – Horton Foote (accepted by Alan J. Pakula)
* Academy Award for Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Black-and-White — (Henry Bumstead, Alexander Golitzen, and Oliver Emert)
Other nominations were:
* Best Picture (Producer, Alan J. Pakula)
* Best Director (Robert Mulligan)
* Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Russell Harlan)
* Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mary Badham)
* Best Music, Score — Substantially Original (Elmer Bernstein)
In 1995, To Kill a Mockingbird was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century. Additionally, the AFI ranked the movie second on their 100 Years… 100 Cheers list, behind It’s a Wonderful Life.
The film was ranked number 34 on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest movies of all time, but moved up to number 25 on the 10th Anniversary list.
In June 2008, the AFI revealed its “Ten top Ten”—the best ten films in ten “classic” American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. To Kill a Mockingbird was acknowledged as the best film in the courtroom drama genre.
In the 54 Best Legal Films of all-time, To Kill a Mockingbird finished in top place with 14 votes out of a possible 15.
In 2007, Hamilton was honored by the Harlem community for her part in the movie. She is the last surviving African-American adult who had a speaking part in the movie. When told of the award, she said, “I think it is terrific. I’m very pleased and very surprised.”