These films effectively argue for multi-ethnicity from different vantage points. The former is a daughter asking her parents to accept her black fiancé. The latter defends an obviously innocent African-American charged with raping a young white girl. Both feel more like plays than big screen cinema, with their tiny handful of locations, lack of visual effects, and explicitly heavy-handed dialogue. Though society has changed since their release, and "statement films" now rally for more current political causes, the strength of the issues relayed in these classics doesn't lose its appeal.
To Kill a Mockingbird, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Harper Lee, is Atticus's (Gregory Peck) struggle for justice in a small, racist community. He barely, but congenially, balances widowed fatherhood with his quest for what's right. He takes the impossible case with quiet fervor so as not to lose self-respect, risking the admiration of his neighbors and peers, and the safety of his children in the process.
Though a strong moral film, Mockingbird tries to cultivate a well-rounded story by following the events from his children's perspective. They play, go to school, get into fights, and dare each other through the notoriously spooky Radley gates. While these routines give a glimpse into the innocence Atticus attempts to protect, they throw off the emotional pacing as a whole because there is just too much of it.
That being said, Atticus's impassioned closing statement to the trial of Tom Robinson understandably won Peck an Oscar. His powerful begging for fair treatment still rings true, as does the shame provoked by Scout's (Mary Badham) friendliness to the townspeople who storm the jail in the hopes of getting to Robinson on the eve of the trial. Also, the community guilt from Robinson's death is palpably appreciated.
Scout is still a joy to watch on screen. Between her tomboyish ways (in a film that takes place in 1932 no less) and her bold questions, she ably guides us through the claustrophobic atmosphere. She and Atticus get the beautifully rare opportunity to appreciate new spins on the humane rules that Atticus continually upholds while raising his children.
To Kill a Mockingbird is an oldie but goody that can still entertain as it preaches. It may be a bit long-winded at over two hours, but it's worth the effort to sit through. The script, while a little too chatty and ill-paced, is poignantly performed. Racial equality may not be as dire an issue to take notice of as it was when this film was made, but this story of growing up in a tension-filled environment still strikes sympathetic chords.
The new Legacy Series DVD includes copious interviews and retrospectives, including Peck's Oscar acceptance speech, plus an extensive documentary/biography of Peck and a packet of reproductions of various international posters used to advertise the film. Lovely set.
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Saturday 16th March 1963
Box Office Worldwide: $13.1M
Distributed by: Universal International Pictur
Production compaines: Brentwood Productions, Universal International Pictures (UI), Pakula-Mulligan
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 46 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 8.4 / 10
Director: Robert Mulligan
Producer: Alan Pakula
Screenwriter: Horton Foote
Starring: Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, Mary Badham as Jean Louise 'Scout' Finch, Phillip Alford as Jeremy 'Jem' Finch, Robert Duvall as Arthur 'Boo' Radley, John Megna as Charles Baker 'Dill' Harris, Frank Overton as Sheriff Heck Tate, Rosemary Murphy as Maudie Atkinson, Ruth White as Mrs. Dubose, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, Estelle Evans as Calpurnia, Alice Ghostley as Aunt Stephanie Crawford, Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, Collin Wilcox as Mayella Violet Ewell, James K Anderson as Robert E. Lee 'Bob' Ewell, William Windom as Prosecutor Mr. Gilmer
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