If ever there was a film that everybody should see at least once in their lifetimes, To Kill a Mockingbird is that movie. Based on a Pulitzer prize winning book by Harper Lee of the same name (which people should also read) it features such stars as Robert Duvall and Gregory Peck . In fact, according to Peck, the role of Atticus Finch is his favorite all-time role.
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We first meet the Finch family. They are Atticus Finch ( Gregory Peck ), a well-respected lawyer in the town of Maycomb, Alabama. His daughter, Jean-Louise 'Scout' Finch ( Mary Badham ), a tomboy of sorts who always looks up to her older brother Jem ( Phillip Alford ). The Finches also have a black housekeeper named Calpurnia, or Cal for short, played by ( Estelle Evans ). In the beginning of the story, Mr. Walter Cunningham is giving Atticus entailments for some previous legal action he did for them. Walter Cunningham is a poor, but very nice gentlemen in the story.
One summer, a young boy about Jem and Scout's age (around 10-11) comes to visit. His name is Charle Baker Harris and he is from Meridian, Mississippi. Folks just call him Dill. He lives with his Aunt Rachel in the summertime, then goes back home during the school year. He and the Finch kids have all sorts of fun and games together. The most important one would be the Boo Radley game. Boo Radley ( Robert Duvall ) is a strange old neighbor who never goes out. According to another neighbor, Boo supposedly calmly stabbed his father in the leg while cutting out some newspaper clippings. Dill dares Jem to touch the Radley home as he knows Jem is deathly afraid of it. Jem manages to, but during their escape, his pants get caught in a fence. When he gets home, he decides to go back and get his pants.
What this story actually revolves around (at least in the movie) is a single trial. A black man called Tom Robinson ( Brock Peters ) has been accused of raping a young white girl Mayella Ewell ( Collin Wilcox Patton ). Atticus Finch is chosen to represent Robinson in the case. Finch knows that the chances of them winning are very slim (this is set in the 1930s and Maycomb is a very racist town). He takes the case generally because it's the right thing to do and if he didn't, he'd never be able to hold his head up in town or tell his kids to do something again.
According to one side of the story, Mayella Ewell asked Tom to chop of up chifforobe for her. While Tom did that, she went inside to get a nickel and Tom followed her inside and raped her. Shortly after, Mayella's father Bob Ewell ( James Anderson ) arrived and chased Tom away. However, according to the defense, it was Mayella who raped Tom Robinson.
I'll let you to see who wins the case and what is the aftermath of that result.
Each major player in this film, particularly Gregory Peck, was just absolutely wonderful. The deep-voiced good natured soul of Atticus Finch was delivered perfectly by Peck. He really shows his emotions well before, during, and after the trial.
Another performance worth mentioning is that of Mayella Ewell. Her scene on the stand in front of Maycomb is absolutely brilliant. She plays a young girl who is deathly afraid of her father and just wants nothing more than to please him. Her acting with Peck is stunning as Atticus Finch delivers question after question and she answers with blatant lie after blatant lie.
Now, even though he only gets like five minutes (I didn't really time it so if I'm off, I apologize), Robert Duvall as Arthur 'Boo' Radley is stunning. Now, I'm not sure why his performance riveted me so much. It isn't his dialogue as he has none. Perhaps it's the fact ( POSSIBLE SPOILER COMING ) that throughout the whole film we believe he is a criminal. That he stabs people at random and is dangerous told little children. However, at the end of the movie we come to realize this is not so. Everything we've come to think about this character is wrong. I think Mr. Duvall delivers this exceptionally well.
Besides acting and characters, another good thing about this film is it's general central idea or theme. Yes, racism and discrimination has been done before in pretty much every piece of entertainment/ educational piece known to man, but I don't think it's ever been done like this. The idea that a well-respected white man would develop a not-so-respected black man in a court of law in front of a bunch of other racist white men is showing courage. Atticus, as well as Tom, faces many threats from the townsfolk about the case and yet he takes it and does his best.
The fact that Atticus Finch wants to install his ideas about life in both his children is wonderful. They are at the age where they don't know exactly what's going on, but they want to. Atticus tells them, never lying to them, but perhaps just leaving certain things out that they may be too young still to hear. As good as he is at being a lawyer, he is an even better father.
After racking by brain, the only con I can think of can't even be considered a con if you haven't read the novel. (So for those of you who haven't read the novel, bear with me here as you'll probably have no idea what I'm talking about). Several scenes were left out that I feel were of some importance. One such scene was when the kids go to Cal's church. It gave them a chance to see thing's from a black person's point of view (an underlying theme in the movie as well). They learn that being a black person in those times isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world.
Director: Robert Mulligan
Stars: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford
Runtime: 129 min.
The film is in black and white, but that doesn't deduce the quality.