Friday, February 19, 2016

AFI Top 100, #34: "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)

Movie Stats:
Released 1962 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Robert Mulligan
Stars - Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford

Plot Summary:
In 1930s Alabama, white lawyer Atticus Finch (Peck) defends black man Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), who has been accused of raping and beating a white woman. All of this is seen through the eyes of Atticus’s young children, Scout (Badham) and Jem (Alford).

Repeated use of a racial epithet; violence; mentions of rape (no rape shown).

Bad Stuff:
It has an episodic feel that messes with the flow of things.

It’s pretty slow.

I’m not in love with the soundtrack.

Good Stuff:
Well, I can’t recall the last time I praised an adaption, but here you go. The greatest strength of this film is the writing. In particular, I’m impressed that the children act and speak like children, which seems so rare in fiction. This is all due to Harper Lee’s excellent writing, but someone (specifically the wonderfully named Horton Foote) had to adapt that writing into a screenplay, and he did a good job of it.

There are a couple of scenes that moved me on a very deep level. [SPOILER] 1. Where a group of men are shamed out of a lynching by the innocence of a little girl. [SPOILER] and 2. The moment when Jem realizes what an incredible man his father is (phenomenal acting by Alford, to convey that without words).

All of the acting was good, but I thought that Peters’ performance in the courtroom scene was particularly powerful.

The Verdict:
Honestly, it was a lot slower than I remembered, and I thought the editing was kind of disjointed. It’s also a difficult movie to watch, due to what happens with the Tom Robinson storyline. Not that it’s unrealistic. On the contrary, it’s far too realistic, and that’s what hurts. On the other hand, there are a lot of fine performances, and I think it’s rather fascinating to see these events through the children’s eyes, to watch them slowly come to understand the world. Plus, I’ve always loved Atticus. Who doesn’t love Atticus? He’s practically the perfect father figure. A bit too permissive, perhaps, but kind and patient and just and righteous. I wish I’d grown up with a father like him. Peck’s lush, deep voice certainly didn’t hurt the character any. I digress. A good, solid film. If you’ve never seen it, there’s no time like the present.

I give it 3.75 stars.


Patricia said...

I haven't seen it since we watched it in 9th grade (seriously, what was up with my junior high/high school education that we watched so many movies? Was is just that VCRs were the latest technology? And actually, we might have watched this on laserdisk.)

Anyway, I re-read the book in 2008 and loved it all over again.

Also, in Almost Famous--my tied-for-first favorite movie of all time--the movie opens with William Miller and his mother coming out of a screening of this movie.

balyien said...

We read the book in school. A friend of my mom's showed the movie to me when I was a preteen. She had heart eyes for Gregory Peck. So that's what I think of every time the movie is mentioned, "OMG, Arlene loved Gregory Peck!" It's one of the few childhood memories I have of an adult being totally gaga over a movie star.