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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird(1963)

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teaser To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

Synopsis

Six-year-old Scout and her ten-year-old brother Jem live a carefree existence in a small Alabama town with their widowed father, Atticus Finch, a respected attorney. But when Atticus agrees to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman, the children are pulled out of their insulated world. Fellow classmates provoke them at school because of their father's case while Atticus encounters prejudice and unreliable witnesses in the courtroom. During this troubled period, Scout continues to indulge her fascination with Boo Radley, a reclusive neighbor who is said to be mentally deranged and is never seen outdoors. This shadowy character soon comes to play a major part in the lives of the children.

Producer: Alan J. Pakula
Director: Robert Mulligan
Screenplay: Horton Foote
Production Design: Henry Bumstead
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Costume Design: Rosemary Odell
Film Editing: Aaron Stell
Original Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch); Mary Badham (Jean Louise "Scout" Finch), Phillip Alford (Jem Finch), John Megna (Dill Harris), Robert Duvall (Arthur "Boo" Radley).
BW-130m. Letterboxed.

Why To Kill a Mockingbird is Essential

The film version of Harper Lee's Pulitzer-prize-winning, semi-autobiographical novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) was one of those rare screen adaptations that pleased fans of the book and its author as well. After seeing the film, Lee commented, "I can only say that I am a happy author. They have made my story into a beautiful and moving motion picture. I am very proud and grateful." Set in Lee's hometown, Monroeville, Alabama, To Kill A Mockingbird vividly captures a specific time and place when racial unrest was at its peak in the South. Yet despite its controversial nature (a black man is accused of raping a white woman), the real focus of the story is the relationship between Scout, a tomboyish six-year-old, her older brother, Jem, and their attorney father. Part of the film's huge appeal is seeing the dramatic events unfold through the innocent eyes of childhood.

Gregory Peck was so perfect in the role that Harper Lee turned down offers in later years for television and stage versions of To Kill A Mockingbird, stating "that film was a work of art and there isn't anyone else who could play the part." At the conclusion of the film's shooting, she gave Peck her father's prized pocket watch which the actor used as a good luck charm on Oscar® night when he would be named Best Actor for his work in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Gregory Peck would later comment on his portrayal of Atticus Finch: "I felt I could climb into Atticus's shoes without any play-acting, that I could be him. My own childhood was...not in the true South; it was in Southern California, but it was nevertheless a small town where we ran around barefooted in the summertime and lived in trees and rolled down the street curled up in an old rubber tire."

Just as effective as Gregory Peck but in a much less visible role was Robert Duvall in his film debut as Arthur Boo' Radley, the town pariah. Radley's mysterious reputation and reclusive nature is an object of fascination for the Finch children and their little neighborhood friend, Dill (who, incidentally, is modeled on Harper Lee's childhood playmate and fellow Pulitzer-winner, Truman Capote). It isn't until the climax of To Kill a Mockingbird that Boo Radley emerges from the shadows to become a flesh and blood character.

Considering the critical acclaim that greeted To Kill A Mockingbird upon its release, it was no big surprise when it was nominated for eight Academy Awards® including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Mary Badham, the sister of director John Saturday Night Fever, 1977, Badham, as 'Scout'), Best Cinematography (by Russell Harlan), and Best Music Score (by Elmer Bernstein). On the big night, the film won a total of three Oscars®In addition to Peck's award, Horton Foote won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar® (he would later win a second Academy Award® for the Best Original Screenplay for Tender Mercies, 1983) and Alexander Golitzen, Henry Bumstead, and Oliver Emert won the award for Best Art Direction.

by Scott McGee, Kerryn Sherrod & Jeff Stafford

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teaser To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

Pop Culture 101 - TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

The overwhelmingly positive reception, by critics and movie audiences, of To Kill a Mockingbird owes a huge debt to the film's timeliness and the year in which it was released - 1963. That year saw Southern racial problems making national headlines with stories of sit-ins, freedom rides, and mass demonstrations.

A filmmaker named Martin Arnold made an experimental film called Passage 'acte in 1993, which uses approximately thirty seconds of the dining room scene in the classic To Kill a Mockingbird and re-edits it into about a 10 minute film. Arnold takes the structural and dramatic harmony in the scene and de-constructs this scenario of normality by destroying its original continuity. Those who are familiar with the film have compared it to listening to a broken record.

Atticus Finch's professional and moral integrity, as well as Gregory Peck's extraordinary performance, has launched thousands of legal careers and remains an inspiration and role model for many practicing attorneys. Peck also played another vastly influential attorney named Abraham Lincoln in the 1982 television production of The Blue and the Grey.

The Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama produces the stage production of To Kill a Mockingbird, performed annually by an all-local cast at the Old Courthouse in May. This production has traveled to Jerusalem, Israel and Kingston-upon-Hull, England, where it was well received by sold-out audiences.

In the early nineties, Harry Lee Coe III, an attorney from Hillsborough, Florida, prosecuted the famous case where two white men were charged with setting a black man on fire. After the jury found the two men guilty, Coe later received a letter of congratulations from Gregory Peck.

Part of To Kill a Mockingbird's enduring popularity is because of its timeless theme of social justice. In The Films of Gregory Peck by John Griggs, the actor said, "You can never be sure what effect a picture of this kind that does deal with a social issue will have. I never overrate the importance of a social philosophy or message, if you like, in a film. But I think one does perhaps get the idea that people will not only be moved and held and entertained but perhaps they'll carry a thought away with them. Perhaps they'll carry it with them for a while, perhaps they'll discuss it with their friends and it may have some effect eventually in a change of social attitude one way or another. I think that's as much as we can be sure of, but that sort of thing does happen."

by Scott McGee

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teaser To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - Trivia and Other Fun Stuff

Gregory Peck was reunited with actress Collin Wilcox, who played the slattern Mayella Violet Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird, when they both appeared in HBO's The Portrait (1992). In fond memory of the role, Duvall named a succession of his dogs Boo Radley.

To Kill a Mockingbird was scripted by celebrated Southern writer Horton Foote because Harper Lee was busy at work on another novel.

Producer Alan J. Pakula directed many fine films such as Klute (1971), All the President's Men (1976), Sophie's Choice (1982), and Presumed Innocent (1990).

The uncredited actress who serves as the narrating voice of the adult Scout is Kim Stanley. An intense Method actress, Stanley won critical acclaim for performances on Broadway and the London stage before turning to film work. While she has only made a handful of films, she earned an Oscar® nomination for Best Actress for Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). Shortly after the release of this film, Stanley suffered a nervous breakdown and temporarily retired from film acting. In the early 1980s, Stanley briefly returned to films, winning her second Oscar® nomination in 1982 for her supporting role as Frances Farmer's mother in Frances (1982).

Famous Quotes from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Atticus Finch: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... 'til you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

Atticus Finch: There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible.

Jem: There goes the meanest man that ever took a breath of life. Dill Harris: Why is he the meanest man? Jem: Well, for one thing, he has a boy named Boo that he keeps chained to a bed in the house over yonder. Boo only comes out at night when you're asleep and it's pitch-dark. When you wake up at night, you can hear him. Once I heard him scratchin' on our screen door, but he was gone by the time Atticus got there. Dill Harris: I wonder what he does in there? I wonder what he looks like? Jem: Well, judgin' from his tracks, he's about six and a half feet tall. He eats raw squirrels and all the cats he can catch. There's a long, jagged scar that runs all the way across his face. His teeth are yella and rotten. His eyes are popped. And he drools most of the time.

Atticus Finch: I remember when my daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house. And that he'd rather I'd shoot at tin cans in the backyard, but he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted, if I could hit 'em, but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don't do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat people's gardens, don't nest in the corncrib, they don't do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.

Jem: Atticus says cheating a black man is ten times worse than cheating a white.

Compiled by Scott McGee

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teaser To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

The Big Idea Behind TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Harper Lee is the youngest of four children by Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Finch Lee. Lee's education consisted of two years at Huntingdon College, four years at the University of Alabama where she studied law, and one year at Oxford University. In the fifties she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines in New York City but soon gave it up to concentrate on her writing. In 1957 Lee submitted the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird to the J. B. Lippincott Company but was told that her book more closely resembled a set of short stories strung together than a novel. The publisher urged her to re-write it and over the next two and a half years Lee re-worked the manuscript with Tay Hohoff, her editor. Finally, in 1960 To Kill a Mockingbird, was published to unanimous critical acclaim in 1960, culminating in a Pulitzer Prize in 1961. It would be Harper Lee's first and only novel.

Over the years, Harper Lee has received many offers to turn her celebrated novel into stage musicals, TV or stage plays, and film remakes, but she has always refused, simply because no one else could embody Atticus Finch as well as Gregory Peck. She once said in an interview, "That film was a work of art and there isn't anyone else who could play the part." It was said that the part of Atticus Finch was based on Harper Lee's own father, Amasa Lee. Harper Lee later told Gregory Peck that he was her Atticus the moment her novel was bought for the big screen.

by Scott McGee

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teaser To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

Behind the Camera on TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Regardless of Harper Lee's high opinion of Gregory Peck, the actor was not Universal Studio's first choice for the role. The part was allegedly offered to Rock Hudson. He was set to do it until the start of production was delayed, entering what today's Hollywood executives would call "development hell." The film project remained there until it attracted the attention of producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan. They became heavily enamored with the project, but not with the idea of Rock Hudson as Atticus Finch. They sent Gregory Peck a copy of Harper Lee's novel, and Peck was soon on board.

Both nine-year-old Mary Badham and thirteen-year-old Phillip Alford were newcomers to the silver screen, as well as Birmingham, Alabama natives. In fact, Badham was picked for the part at an audition in Birmingham. Despite universal praise for the novice film actors, neither Badham nor Alford chose to capitalize on their stunning film debuts. Badham retired from acting and married a schoolteacher. She now lives near Richmond, Virginia, and spends most of her time raising her two children. Alford later became a successful businessman in Birmingham.

John Megna, playing the neighborhood friend Dill, also made his film debut in To Kill a Mockingbird, although he had some stage experience in the Broadway production of All the Way Home. Megna's unique character in the film is based on author Truman Capote, a childhood friend of Harper Lee's. Megna later co-starred with Burt Lancaster in Go Tell the Spartans (1978) and other movies before succumbing to AIDS in September 1995.

Up until the release of To Kill a Mockingbird, African-American actor Brock Peters was typecast as villains. Peters told a reporter in 1964, "Producers didn't want to see me. They had liked my performances but couldn't see me as anything but a heavy." That all changed when Robert Mulligan and Alan J. Pakula cast him as Tom Robinson, a Southern black man who stands accused of raping a white woman. Peters's performance shattered his typecast and deeply impressed a number of critics. In Film Reviews, Henry Hart wrote: "..Mr. Peters redeems the plot cliches nd makes us remember that the history of the black man in the U.S. does include cases like the one on which To Kill a Mockingbird is based." Peters never achieved leading man status in American films, although he continues to work to this day. Among his film credits are Carmen Jones (1954), Porgy and Bess (1959), The Pawnbroker (1965), Soylent Green (1973), and he appeared as Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). He also had a recurring role in the television series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as the character Joseph Sisko from 1995-1998.

When it came time to cast the part of Boo Radley, Horton Foote recalled a young actor's shattering performance in his drama The Midnight Caller at the Neighborhood Playhouse. That actor was Robert Duvall and Foote's recommendation helped the actor secure the role of Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird. The movie marked Duvall's screen debut and was the beginning of a stellar film career for Duvall, that included a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Tender Mercies, another film written by Horton Foote. In preparation for the pivotal role of Boo Radley, Duvall stayed out of the sunlight for six weeks and died his hair blonde in order to achieve the look of someone who had spent most of their life locked in a cellar.

When Gregory Peck was first approached by producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan for the role of Atticus, the actor had already seen their first collaboration - Fear Strikes Out (1957) - and was suitably impressed. So, Peck agreed to read Harper Lee's novel. In The Films of Gregory Peck by John Griggs, the actor recalled, "I got started on it and of course I sat up all night and read straight through it. I understood that they wanted me to play Atticus and I called them at about eight o'clock in the morning and said, 'If you want me to play Atticus, when do I start? I'd love to play it.' I thought the novel was a fine piece of writing and of course I turned out to be right about that, because it won the Pulitzer Prize and it's still being read in high-school literature classes and the paperback goes on selling. But more than that I felt it was something I could identify with without any stress or strain... And I felt that I knew those two children...So I fell into that very readily, both as the father and with an understanding of the children."

Peck journeyed to Monroeville, Alabama with Mulligan and Pakula to meet Harper Lee's ailing father. True to the story, Amasa Lee really had been a widower who raised his children single handed, a man who at the same time was always ready to defend a black man falsely accused of crimes he did not commit. That experience of meeting the actual man aided Gregory Peck's performance immeasurably. He looked and sounded like the real man, and no one realized this more than Harper Lee herself. When she first spotted Peck in character, she burst into tears, and said, "He's got a little pot belly, just like my daddy." Peck replied, "That's no pot belly, Harper, that's great acting."

By the time filming was over, Amasa Lee had died. Harper Lee showed her immense appreciation for the actor's performance by presenting to Peck her father's gold pocket watch, the one he had carried with him to court for 40 years. The priceless timepiece was in Peck's pocket when he collected his Academy Award® for Best Actor on April 8, 1963.

Universal spared nothing in order to recreate the authentic atmosphere depicted so lovingly in Lee's novel and they did it entirely on the studio lot. Location scouts looked over the Los Angeles area until they found a community of clapboard houses that had just the right deteriorating look they wanted. Universal found the houses just in time as they were about to be bulldozed to make way for a freeway extension. The houses were carefully dismantled and rebuilt on the studio lot.

The courtroom is a recreation of the interior of the Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee's hometown. Prior to filming, the production designers traveled to Monroeville, took photographs and measurements, and recreated a duplicate version on Universal's studio lot.

by Scott McGee, Kerryn Sherrod & Jeff Stafford

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teaser To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

The Critics' Corner on TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Variety noted in its December 12, 1962 review that To Kill a Mockingbird "is a major film achievement, a significant, captivating, and memorable picture that ranks with the best of recent years." Most popular periodicals echoed Variety' review, while others were not quite as praising. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote in his February 15, 1963 review that "it comes as a bit of a letdown at the end to realize that, for all the picture's feeling for children, it doesn't tell us very much of how they feel." Of course, the problem may have been Crowther's inattentiveness, since he referred to Scout throughout the review as "Scott."

Other movie review samples:

Saturday Review: "To Kill a Mockingbird is so full of small excellences that it requires the somewhat solid presence of Gregory Peck to remind us that it was made in Hollywood at all."

The New York Herald Tribune: "...the scene stealers in this excellent film....are Mary Badham...Phillip Alford...and John Megna...The story may seem slightly sentimental..but its stature and lasting substance stem from the beautifully observed relationship between father and children and from the youngsters' perceptions of the enduring human values in the world around them."

Time magazine: "Mulligan and scenarist Horton Foote have translated both testament and melodrama into one of the year's most fetching and affecting pictures...Mockingbird has nothing very profound to say about the South and its problems. Sometimes, in fact, its side-porch sociology is simply fatuous: the Negro is just too goody-goody to be true, and Peck though he is generally excellent, lays it on a bit thick at times - he seems to imagine himself the Abe Lincoln of Alabama."

Awards & Honors

To Kill a Mockingbird remains a high point in Academy Award history, with multiple nominations and several wins. Gregory Peck certainly deserved his win for Best Actor, while the team of Henry Bumstead, Oliver Emert, and Alexander Golitzen easily stole the Oscar® for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. Horton Foote won the Oscar® for his screenplay, adapted from Harper Lee's novel. Robert Mulligan's direction won a nomination, as did Russell Harlan's cinematography, Elmer Bernstein's evocative score, and little Mary Badham's performance in a supporting role. Of course, To Kill a Mockingbird was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost out to the monumental epic, Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

In addition to its Oscars®, To Kill a Mockingbird received numerous awards and nominations from such organizations as the American Cinema Editors, the British Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes, the PGA Golden Laurel Awards, the Writers Guild of America, and the National Film Preservation Board, which placed the film on its National Film Registry in 1995.

Peck's own assessment of his performance? "I'm not falsely modest about it. I think I was good in that picture," the actor said.

To Kill a Mockingbird placed at number 34 in the American Film Institute's 100 Best American Films poll, conducted in 1998.

by Scott McGee & Jeff Stafford

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teaser To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

The film version of Harper Lee's Pulitzer-prize-winning, semi-autobiographical novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) was one of those rare screen adaptations that pleased fans of the book and its author as well. After seeing the film, Lee commented, "I can only say that I am a happy author. They have made my story into a beautiful and moving motion picture. I am very proud and grateful." Set in Lee's hometown, Monroeville, Alabama, To Kill A Mockingbird vividly captures a specific time and place when racial unrest was at its peak in the South. Yet despite its controversial nature (a black man is accused of raping a white woman), the real focus of the story is the relationship between Scout, a tomboyish six-year-old, her older brother, Jem, and their attorney father. Part of the film's huge appeal is seeing the dramatic events unfold through the innocent eyes of childhood.

Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch, a widower and father of two children, who was reportedly modeled after Harper Lee's father, a single parent. According to Michael Freedland, author of Gregory Peck, "The day Harper Lee saw him for the first time walk out of his dressing room in his Panama hat and three-piece white linen suit she burst into tears and called, "My God, he's got a little pot belly just like my Daddy!" "That's no pot belly, Harper," said Greg, "that's great acting."

Gregory Peck was, in fact, so perfect in the role that Harper Lee turned down offers in later years for television and stage versions of To Kill A Mockingbird, stating "that film was a work of art and there isn't anyone else who could play the part." At the conclusion of the film's shooting, she gave Peck her father's prized pocket watch which the actor used as a good luck charm on Oscar night when he would be named Best Actor for his work in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Gregory Peck would later comment on his portrayal of Atticus Finch: "I felt I could climb into Atticus's shoes without any play-acting, that I could be him. My own childhood was...not in the true South; it was in Southern California, but it was nevertheless a small town where we ran around barefooted in the summertime and lived in trees and rolled down the street curled up in an old rubber tire."

Just as effective as Gregory Peck but in a much less visible role was Robert Duvall in his film debut as Arthur "Boo" Radley, the town pariah. Radley's mysterious reputation and reclusive nature is an object of fascination for the Finch children and their little neighborhood friend, Dill (who, incidentally, is modeled on Harper Lee's childhood playmate and fellow Pulitzer-winner, Truman Capote). It isn't until the climax of To Kill a Mockingbird that Boo Radley emerges from the shadows to become a flesh and blood character.

Considering the critical acclaim that greeted To Kill A Mockingbird upon its release, it was no big surprise when it was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Mary Badham, the sister of director John (Saturday Night Fever Badham, as 'Scout'), Best Cinematography (by Russell Harlan), and Best Music Score (by Elmer Bernstein). On the big night, the film won a total of three Oscars. In addition to Peck's award, Horton Foote won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar (he would later win a second Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay for Tender Mercies, 1983) and Alexander Golitzen, Henry Bumstead, and Oliver Emert won the award for Best Art Direction.

Producer:Alan J. Pakula
Director: Robert Mulligan
Screenplay: Horton Foote
Production Design: Henry Bumstead
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Costume Design: Rosemary Odell
Film Editing: Aaron Stell
Original Music: Elmer Bernstein
Principal Cast: Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch); Mary Badham (Jean Louise "Scout" Finch), Philip Alford (Jem Finch), John Megna (Dill Harris), Robert Duvall (Arthur "Boo" Radley).
BW-130m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Kerryn Sherrod

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