To Kill a Mockingbird
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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