To Kill A Mockingbird – 1962
Director – Robert Mulligan
Starring – Gregory Peck, Brock Peters, Phillip Alford, Mary Badham, and Robert Duvall
Upon starting this film, I was under the mistaken impression that it was a completely different trial/courtroom movie. Apparently, even though I had already seen it, not to mention the fact that it came out well over 30 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, I was confusing it with the 1996 movie A Time To Kill. While I suppose there are similarities in the central themes of justice and race relations in the south, A Time to Kill, and To Kill A Mockingbird are two very different films.
To Kill A Mockingbird, is told entirely through the eyes and experiences of the trial lawyer’s children, Scout and Jem, and is more a tale of decency and acceptance than it is a courtroom pot-boiler. The trial itself only takes up a small portion of the film, yet we can feel it’s influence throughout the entire story. Characters that we meet through the course of the story exemplify the lessons and virtues of the civilized behavior that the Atticus Finch character (the trial lawyer played by Gregory Peck) tries to teach his children.
This innocence and down home decency that the story is filtered through does, unfortunately,work against the emotion of the storytelling, and taints it a little bit. Every plot twist and nuance is given a sort of ho-hum, boy howdy, type folksy quality that the story can never quite get beyond. The unwavering goodness of the father figure, played in true 1950’s American style, never seems to get angry, or make a miss-step. The good guys always wear white hats and the bad guys black hats, so they can be easily distinguished from one another.
On the plus side, it did function as a rather nice sort of fairy tale, much like one of the American Tall Tales. Only instead of how Paul Bunyan created the Great Lakes or hearing about how Pecos Bill roped a tornado, we learned how the Civil Rights movement quashed racism and bigotry, and how little kids are looked over and protected by the Boo Radleys of the world. Operating on this level, To Kill a Mockingbird is an enjoyable film with just the right amount of heartbreak and joy.