To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

by | Sep 13, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

To Kill A Mockingbird  (1962)

Starring: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters
Studio: Universal
Video:  1.85:1 Enhanced for 16:9 Widescreen,  B&W
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 English; French 2.0
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish (Subtitled for the deaf & hard of hearing)
Extras:  Disc 1 –  Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance
Speech; American Film Institute Life Achievement Award; Excerpt From
Academy Tribute To Gregory Peck; Scout Remembers; Feature Commentary
With Director and Producer Alan Pakula; Theatrical Trailer.  Disc
2 – A Conversation With Gregory Peck; Fearful Symmetry: The Making of
To Kill  A Mockingbird. Plus: 11 Exclusive Printed Reproductions
of Original Theatrical Posters
Length: 2 hours 10 minutes
Rating: *****

The much loved novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, based on real
life experiences, was published in 1960 at a critical time in the fight
for racial justice. It was on the best seller list for two years and
published in 40 languages. The time is 1930’s Alabama. An innocent and
kind black man, Tom Robinson  (Brock Peters), is falsely charged
with rape. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is assigned to defend him. The
story is told somewhat from the viewpoint of a 6 year old girl (9 year
old Mary Badham) and her slightly older brother Jem (Phillip Alford).
The setting is mostly their home, neighborhood and the courthouse. The
heart of the film centers on Boo Radley (Robert Duvall in his very
first role and a much acclaimed performance), a neighbor everyone
misunderstands and fears. Gregory Peck won a Best Actor Oscar and the
film won Best Adapted Screenplay.

The way in which the stories of Tom and Boo and the children and their
extraordinary father Atticus interweave is both heartbreaking and
hopeful. The soul of the film  reverberates with two unforgettable
characters, Tom and Atticus. They reflect only goodness, honor,
compassion and decency.  Such sweet moments occur as Atticus
teaches his children about both the beauty and ugliness of life and how
to be their best selves in the world. There is not one false note in
the film. It is intensely real and beautifully understated.

In the extras we learn that many consider Gregory Peck to be the
embodiment of Atticus Finch. Of his numerous films, To Kill  A
Mockingbird was his favorite film and Atticus Finch his favorite role.
Peck tells about staying up all night reading Harper Lee’s novel,
totally enthralled, and calling the next day with “If you want me, I’m
your boy.” Studios were not interested in producing such a movie for
the most part. They could not accept a story with no romance, no
violence onscreen, and not a lot of action.

This 2 DVD set is an extraordinary feast for fans of Gregory Peck and
those who have loved this timeless, unforgettable film. We have three
films in one, as both the two accompanying documentaries, A
Conversation with Gregory Peck, by his daughter Cecilia Peck, and
Fearful Symmetry: The Making of To Kill A Mockingbird are feature
length. The extra of Mary Badham talking about her role as Scout, her
experience making the film and her relationship with Peck is a
treasure. Residents of Monroeville are featured speaking about the
South and their town. It is remarked that “A Southerner would rather
talk than read or write.”

The production of To Kill A Mockingbird was clearly a labor of love for
everyone involved. Robert Mulligan and Alan Paluka, on the audio
commentary,  recall the valuable part music played in the film:
Elmer Bernstein’s exquisite score. Two Southerners were advisors on the
film, Horton Foote, who also wrote the screenplay and Harper Lee, the
author of the novel.

The process of selecting and working with the child actors is an
absorbing subject. They wanted real kids from the South and what a wise
decision it was to use them instead of professional actors. Thousands
were interviewed. Mary Badham (Scout) remained  friends with Peck
until his death. Always they addressed each other as Scout and Atticus.
Mary Badham had no experience acting.  Gregory Peck created the
kind of comfortable relationship with the child actors that brought out
their excellent performances.

The acclaimed actor Brock Peters (who died recently) is poignant in his
remarks about the role of Tom Robinson. Before the scene where Tom
testifies in court, the director recalls saying to him “There is
nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know about this
man.”  His entire being in this role emanates total goodness in
contrast to James Anderson’s white trash cracker character Bob Ewell,
evil and frightening, whose daughter Mayella has made the ridiculous
rape charge. He joins some of the most evil character in films. 
Brock Peters reflects the luminous nobility of Tom. In fact every actor
in the film is superb, as is the understated direction.

I am impressed by the sheer volume and richness of this feature film
and the two documentaries as well as the other extras, about Gregory
Peck the person, about his films, about the making of this masterpiece,
about Harper Lee, about the other actors and people associated with
this film. If you’ve never seen To Kill A Mockingbird (or if you did
many years ago), for heaven’s sake, run, don’t walk, to acquire this
collection. The digital remastering of the image and sound successfully
preserves the fine quality of this classic film.

-Donna Dorsett


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