Recommended Viewing Situation:
After buying a copy of the daily mail and setting it alight. Or kicking through your TV after watching the U.S presidential election.
Running Time: 129 minutes.
Format: 35mm black and white film.
Director: Robert Mulligan.
Writers: Harper Lee (writer) Horton Foote (screenplay).
Cinematographer: Russell Harlan.
Awards: Three Oscar’s. Best actor (Gregory Peck) Best writing, screen play based on material from another source (Horton Foote, award accepted by Alan J. Parker) Best Art direction-set decoration, Black and White (Alexander Golitzen, Henry Bumstead, Oliver Emert).
Based on the 1960 Pulitzer-winning novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming of age story set alongside the dark undertones of racial tension in a small Alabama town during the Great Depression. The story follows a young tomboy called Scout, her brother Jem, a boy called Dill (believed to be based on Truman Capote, he and Lee were childhood friends) and Atticus Finch, admirably played by Gregory Peck. Finch is a lawyer who has been chosen by the local judge to defend Tom Robinson, a black man on trial for the rape and beating of a local white woman.
The children are fascinated by their neighbour Boo Radley (a first film credit for Robert Duvall), a mysterious man who is only ever seen during the night and who the town folk are reluctant to talk about. The innocence of childhood bravery and intrigue adds depth to the film’s subplot, with director Mulligan creating wonderfully tense moments as the children brave encountering the Radley house late at night. The main thrust of the story centers around Atticus’s case and the racial prejudice that comes with defending a black man in the ‘Deep South’, during a time when lynching was rife Atticus goes beyond the call of duty to keep Robinson safe, even guarding his cell from a hick mob, giving the film one of its most iconic moments. While the mob intimidates Atticus, Scout protects him by innocently shaming one of them; changing the mood of these angry grown men, tails between their legs, they leave Atticus and Robinson alone.
Along with being a tense deconstruction of race relations in 30’s America, the film has some truly dark moments. As the children leave a Halloween party, Ewell, drunk and seeking revenge on Atticus for humiliating him in court, stalks and attacks the children, only for them to be protected by an unlikely figure. The attack is artistically done with shadow and suggestion, predominately showing the fear in Scouts eyes. The film is excellently cast, the choice of young actors can make or break a film, but in To kill a Mocking Bird the child actors are definitely an asset. However, it is the presence of Peck and his Oscar winning turn which are the true heart of the movie. The black and white film print is an inspired choice to tell a story in the past tense, you almost forget that this is a narrative told through Scout’s memories. Mulligan’s direction intelligently cuts from the wonder of youth to the cold reality of everyday racism. With far right wing politics rearing its ugly head in life today, watching this film is quite poignant. You can only hope that there may be an Atticus Finch out there who will be prepared to defend innocent people from the miscarriages of justice.