Here are some of the reviews of the film, made close to present day.
Mary F. SibleyEdit
Every so often, as sure as night follows day, a film comes along thatmanages to transport us from our everyday lives and into a time and placethat is recalled through memories of better and in a reversal of fortunes,turbulent times. To Kill A Mockingbird is such a film.
In a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee, the small town of Macomb,Alabama is portrayed in the summer of 1932, during the deepest depressionthat the United States had ever experienced. Over the course of the nextyear and a half, events will burrow inside this sleepy southern town andthe lives of its residents will be transported by actions, ideas,perceptions and convictions that will influence one, and all, in ways thatwill ring true for years to come.
Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a lawyer and widower, raising two smallchildren: Scout (Mary Badham) and her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford).Into their lives enters a visitor, Dill (John Megna) from Meridian,Mississippi, who is spending two weeks with his Aunt Stephanie (AliceGhostley). Macomb is a town with nothing to do and, if there were, no moneyto spend on it. The stage is being set for a life-shattering episode thatwill not go quietly into that good night.
Childhood holds its fascinations, its myths, its coming of age and, throughthe eyes of the three children, the audience is allowed to peer into theadult world around them as perceived through the minds and souls ofinnocence that will be all too easily shattered as time whistles down thetrack. One of the stories woven so masterfully within its covers is thelocal urban legend of the bogeyman, Boo Radley (Robert Duval), who lives onthe same block as the Finch family. In a narration, rather like playingtelephone, his persona takes on all the familiar attributes of a ravinglunatic, a monster out for blood. His aura becomes the end all for Scout,Jem and Dill as they seek to master the mystery surrounding Boo and theability to live to tell the tale!
Into this world of innocence, a shattering crescendo of complexity wrapsitself in the lives of the townspeople in the form of an alleged rape of awhite woman, Mayella Violet Ewell (Collin Wilcox), by a black man, TomRobinson (Brock Peters). Atticus Finch is called upon to act as counsel forRobinson and, in doing so, the stage has been set for a dance with racerelations and the exemplary lengths taken in order to allow justice toprevail in the face of malcontent.
The performances throughout To Kill A Mockingbird are stunning. GregoryPeck, as the gentleman lawyer who is mired in small town attitudes andthoughts that were so representational in the southern gothic sphere, hascollected and held a restrained order to his character, and in the process,he has allowed us all to be on the receiving end of hate as conveyedthrough the actions of small minds and small people. The children,especially Mary Badham, are siblings of more than a movie-making venture.They show the absence of preconceived notions and the guile of beingsbefore the actions of adults can render their world as lost and gone withthe shedding of time.
James Anderson as Tom Ewell is the complete representation of oily slime asMayella's father. He embodies all of the hate and prejudice that continuesto be harboured to this day in the souls of those who would attempt towield their vision of the way things should and ought to be. He has a foulbaseness that lingers like a bad rash as he attempts to invoke hisarguments through drunken bullying and hatred. Collin Willcox, as Mayella,is excruciatingly convincing as the bored house-bound white woman who triesto tempt Tom Robinson into kissing her and through her actions sets inmotion a rollercoaster of tragedy to come. Her speech to the assembledcourtroom is superb and as the audience, you feel her anger and resentmentat having to be put in such a position, having to lie to save face and whatlittle position she has in the town. Brock Peters, as the aforementionedRobinson, is equally sure in the allotted time he spends on the screen.
There is a noble demeanor to his bearing and yet we are aware of therestrictions to which blacks were held in their relationships with whitesat the time.
Robert Mulligan, the director, and Horton Foote, the screenwriter, havepresented us with a look into our pasts and faithfully etched a portrait ofquiet and artfully rendered proportions that draw us into the canvas andthe lives of those assembled. We have walked a mile in their shoes and havebeen under their skin. Foote worried about being able to do justice toLee's novel, but he worried for nothing. He has completely evoked a timeperiod that now rests behind clouds of dust, blown by the winds of timeinto oblivion.
The cinematography by Russell Harlan and the set decoration by OIiver Emertcarry us back through the courtesy of black and white to a depiction seenonly in old photographs and clouding memories of those who lived in thoseprecarious times. Black and white films seem to have had a curse thrustupon them by the younger generation today, as boring and tedious, butthrough the courtesies extended by Harlan and Emert, we are richer forthose perceptions that would harken back throughout the pages of history.
Elmer Bernstein's film score carries us like an old friend and helps us tomake our acquaintances with the characters held within this framework. Hehas achieved much with a simple theme and persuades us that such simplicityis fulfilled with less rather than more.
To Kill A Mockingbird is beautifully haunting and having been made in the'60s, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, it garners our attentionto stop and take the time to truly 'see' what the human race is all aboutand what it can and should be, if taken over the bumps in the road and ontoa path of sincere honesty and purpose. No special effects were needed, nohuge Hollywood budget, no splashing of a story that had a happy ending foreveryone involved. It is an open book into the realities of a world tiltingtemporarily off its axis and being brought back on track through thegoodness that sits in the hearts, minds and souls of mankind, if given halfa chance. See it and be amazed at what real moviemaking is all about.
To Kill a Mockingbird is the movie based on the Harper Lee novel of the same name about Scout, Jem and their father, Atticus Finch who is an attorney in a small southern town. It is both a coming of age story about the children as well as a hard-hitting drama, as Atticus defends a black man who is on trial for the rape of a white woman.
This review is not an easy one to write, despite the fact that I have seen this film at least 10 times. The reason it does not come easily is that this is one of the most personally important films I have ever seen and is in my personal `Top Five of All Time'. I'm certain there is nothing that can be said about the film that has not already been repeated a multitude of times, so I guess the best thing to do is explain why the film is so important to me.
I first saw this film several years ago and was so profoundly affected by it that I immediately watched it again. Of course, the defense of a man wrongly accused of a crime is a common story line, but To Kill a Mockingbird stands out as an exceptional example for several reasons. Among them, the date that the film was released: 1962, on the cusp of the civil rights movement in America, and the fact that it takes place in the south in the 1930's. It is also far from the first film to explore the experiences of children and their own personal growth, but To Kill a Mockingbird stands out because of its sheer honesty and natural performances by the child actors portraying these rich characters.
But most of all, this film is special because of Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch, a true hero. At the risk of sounding histrionic, my heart aches when I watch him on screen because he is such an incredible man, and is so inherently good. No matter how many times I have seen this film, I smile when I see his interaction with his children, and I well with tears when I see his incredible strength of character. (No easy feat to break through the armor of this cynical film geek who, if given the chance would remake at least a few dozen films with tragic endings.) I was sitting in my car listening to National Public Radio recently the day Gregory Peck died, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I sat and cried hearing the retrospective they offered – mainly because the man who portrayed my own personal cinematic hero was gone, but also because Peck lived his life with the same conviction as his best known role; a fact that makes Atticus Finch all the more tangible. The American Film Institute recently named Atticus Finch the number one hero of all time, a choice I consider both brave and insightful in an age where our heroes generally either wield weapons or have super human physical strength. Atticus Finch fights evil as well, but with his strong moral fiber and his mind.
To Kill a Mockingbird is generally required reading during the course of one's education. If you have not read it, do so. If you have not seen the film, do so; and share it with others. It is an exceptional film that stands the test of time and will remain an important addition to film history for as long as the genre exists.
Date: 9th November 2003 Rating: 5/5 Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056592/usercomments
Donald J LambEdit
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is presented like a play in three acts. It is also from the children's perspective. Through the kids, we find that racism is a learned attitude or feeling. We also see a delightful coming of age drama as the young kids realize that there is no Boogeyman down the street and their father is capable of doing a lot more than they think. The great Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a pillar of nobility, social conscience, and, rare for 1930's Americana, a single parent. Peck is such a strong presence, you believe everything about him. It is something you can compare to America's trust in TV anchorman Walter Cronkite. We always took his word for it.
Act one puts Atticus in the background and allows the kids to flourish. Director Robert Mulligan was able to get such realistic performances from non-professional kids. They are amusing and fun to watch. The big mystery lies in the house down the street in this small Georgia town. Who is the monstrous, "6 and a half feet big" legend living in the end house? Some light suspense ensues, while the buildup to a stirring act two is happening. Atticus must defend an African-American man for the alleged rape of a white woman.
After threats galore, an unshaken Peck takes to the courtroom jungle in, without a doubt, one of the top 5 court scenes in motion picture history. Brock Peters lends the film its best moments as the accused "negro" on trial. This man has a face chiseled with suffering and deep, deep sorrow. We know Atticus is a good man, a decent human being with a soul. He sees this in his client as well, and in a closing argument that must have roused the civil rights movement, implores the jury to vote justice. An all-male, all-white jury in the 1930's were tough listeners. Peters' breakdown on the stand is one of the most realistic, emotionally saddening moments you'll ever see, especially in Hollywood films of the 1960's. The scene when Peck leaves the courtroom is now legendary as well.
Act three produces a tragic death, an unlikely hero, and the bringing together of a family. The filmmakers have such a passion for the material, they seem to handle it with gentleness. Racism is a hard-boiled subject and it is depicted and dealt with through grace and patience. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD poses the injustice of race relations in the 1930's as a front for the events happening in the 1960's. The film came out during turbulent times and was also an adaption of a literary classic. I am one to judge a film solely by film only. The book is a separate art form and should not be compared to the film, an art form itself. It is important, it is enlightening, and it has not aged. Watch it.
Date: 30 march 1999
Rating: 4.5/5 Source:
The first time I saw To Kill A Mockingbird was at a drive-in theater. I was probably about ten or eleven at the time. Even at a young age I was captivated by this seemingly simple story told through the eyes of children that I could easily relate to. Perhaps also it was the fact that the part of the story that dealt with Boo Radley, held a kind of mystery and an eeriness for me, much in the way a ghost story would. I'm not about to make the pretense that I understood the social significance of To Kill A Mockingbird at the age of ten, or even the greatness of the film. That would come later in life, after having viewed it in one of it's first network television broadcasts.
One of the things that makes To Kill A Mockingbird a truly great film is the love and respect everyone involved in bringing Harper Lee's novel to the screen had for the original source material. It shows up on screen in every single frame. Each performance in this film is beyond reproach. Gregory Peck had many fine performances over his storied career, but none every approached the perfection he brought to his portrayal of Atticus Finch. As Atticus, Peck brings us the depth of understanding as to how his love for Jem and Scout enables him to treat his children with respect and honesty. He never talks down to them, but approaches them on a level in which children of their age can comprehend and learn from his own wisdom. Yet, he is still able to retain the same no nonsense approach as other parents. Atticus is also a man who believes in the integrity of justice, yet recognizes the failings of our justice system. When called upon to do his duty, he does so, despite the hatred and venom brought to bear upon him and his children by the citizens of the town in which he lives.
In casting Jem, Scout and Dill, Producer Alan J. Pakula and Director Robert Mulligan faced a daunting task. So much of the success of To Kill A Mockingbird depended on the pivotal role these characters would play in the film. For Jem he chose Philip Alford, for Scout, Mary Badham, and for Dill, John Megna. Alford and Badham were both southern natives who had never been in films before. Megna was a New York native but was also inexperienced. It is this inexperience and lack of polish that enables all three to shine on the screen. Mulligan began filming by letting them act as if making a film was like recess, allowing them to play on the set, and only moving the camera gradually as they became accustomed to their surroundings. It paid off in every way imaginable. None of the three ever appear as if they are actors acting, and bring a childlike wonder and presence to their roles that I had never seen before, and will unlikely witness again.
Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of raping a white girl, also gives a performance which he would never again surpass. You will not find anywhere a more memorable scene in any court room than when he testifies on the witness stand. Because he dared to care about a white girl, he now faces almost certain death if convicted, and perhaps even if not convicted. It is the first time I was able to begin to understand the effects of man's prejudice and hatred of a man simply because of the color of his skin. Just as Jem and Scout came of age, and realized the significance of the injustices of racial hatred, so did I.
Equally significant, is Collin Wilcox as Mayella Ewell. She makes it easy for many to hate her, but like Atticus, we see in her a person to be more pitied than hated. She is a product of not only the times in which she lives, but even more so of her wretched upbringing. Mayella is what she is, but only because of the deep cutting prejudices of those around her. To Mayella, being caught enticing a black man into your house for relations, is the ultimate crime and the penalty for doing so is unthinkable to her.
In his screen debut as Boo Radley, Robert Duvall also brings to life the mysterious neighbor that once frightened Jem, Dill, and Scout so much. Though on the screen for a short length of time, without uttering a word, Duvall shows us a man tortured by years of cruelty, mistreatment, and the gossip and whispers of neighbors. He is a man who wants only to live in his own way, yet the bond that links him to Jem and Scout is significant. They are the childhood he had never really known. Just as Tom Robinson, he has never brought harm to anyone, yet suffers significantly just for the right to be able to exist.
The care with which To Kill A Mockingbird was brought to the screen can also be seen in the Art Direction by Henry Bumstead and Set Decoration by Oliver Emert. They indeed bring to life what a small Southern Town would have been like in the early thirties. Cinematographer Russel Harlan's black and white photography brings it all vividly to the screen, especially in the way he captures the foreboding of the Radley house, the moments when Bob Ewell approaches Jem when he is left in a car alone, and even more noteworthy near the end of the film when Jem and Scout are walking home from a school play. Elmer Bernstein's score is never boisterous, but yet is as important to setting the mood of many of the scenes played out before us.
There have been many eloquent words written in many of the comments on this board about To Kill A Mockingbird. Many of the words are far better than those that I have written. Then again, maybe a few simple paragraphs cannot truly describe the significant achievement in film making that To Kill A Mockingbird is. It will be forever remembered, long after you and I have departed from this world. It is at this point that I usually grade a film. I will skip that here, simply because there is no grade that I can give that could possibly do justice for To Kill A Mockingbird.