To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Reviewed by Mitchell Burns
Director: Robert Mulligan
Starring: Gregory Peck, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters, Mary Badham, Frank Overton, Collin Wilcox, John Megna, Estelle Evans, James Anderson, and Robert Duvall.
Based on the novel by: Harper Lee
I don’t very often review a movie older than 10 or 20 years, especially one that’s over 50 years old. There isn’t much I can add to 50 years of conversation that hasn’t already been said about a movie, but reviewing To Kill a Mockingbird might bring a little credibility to my little blog here.
My knowledge of To Kill a Mockingbird before seeing the movie was lacking, I have never read Harper Lee’s book, I plan to read it but I feel like the only one who didn’t have to read it in high school and I blame my teachers. I knew very little about the movie, apart from it having to do with race and a little of the court system. Strangely enough, I knew about 5 of the characters names; it goes to show how much these characters are ingrained in our history.
The movie begins with one of our protagonists, Scout, played by (the adorable and brilliant) Mary Badham., playing in the yard while her brother Jem (Phillip Alford), sits in a tree. If you know nothing of this movie, like me, you might assume it’s a movie about kids, for kids. Jem and Scout (or Jean Louis Finch) are the son and daughter of Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the small (fictional) town of Maycomb, Alabama.
What is interesting about To Kill a Mockingbird is even with its deep subject matter, the whole movie is told through the eyes of the children. If the audience is viewing a scene that means that one of the kids is in said scene. Atticus Finch (Peck) has lost his wife and is trying to raise his kids as a single father, with his only help being the Finch’s housekeeper Calpurnia (Estelle Evans). He is a good and fair man and he tries to instill that upon his two children, although he often finds it difficult being a lawyer in a small town full of greed and racism.
Atticus is given the case to defend a black man named Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), who is accused of raping and beating Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox) the daughter of Bob Ewell (James Anderson).
Any movie is ultimately better when you don’t know much about it the first time, even though most people have probably seen the movie or read the book, I won’t divulge any more of the story.
There are five standout performances in To Kill a Mockingbird, five performances that I will remember forever, and helped bring these amazing characters to life. The first is obviously Gregory Peck; Peck brings Atticus to life with such conviction that it would be hard to see him play any other role. The courtroom scene, in which he has a breathtaking monologue, is so tense and incredible that it’s damn near impossible to take your eyes away from the screen.
Mary Badham (Scout) and Phillip Alford (Jem) are magnificent as the kids, Mary Badham was the youngest female to receive an Oscar nomination, and deservedly so. I found Alford’s performance to be wonderful, portraying a kid who looks up to his father, and in many ways, is exactly like his father.
The other two performances that I found to be quite good were: Brock Peters, as the man Atticus Finch is defending; and Collin Wilcox, as one of the most unlikeable and whiny characters I have seen in a movie to date.
In an older movie like this, I see shades of movies that came before it, like 12 Angry Men, and I see its impression on hundreds of movies that came afterwards, such as The Goonies and Stand by me and on almost any courtroom that followed.
It’s the subject matter that will immediately have any viewer invested; you immediately have empathy for this whole family who have lost a mother and a wife. This conversation between Scout and Jem is incredibly sweet:
[Atticus on the porch overhearing their conversation]
Scout: How old was I when Mama died?
Scout: How old were you?
Scout: Old as I am now?
Scout: Was Mama Pretty?
Scout: Was Mama nice?
Scout: Did you love her?
Scout: Did I love her?
Scout: Do you miss her?
It’s just so sweet, and full of innocence, and being that the whole movie is shown through the eyes of children, one of the movies main themes is the innocence of children. Jem and Scout, like all people, were not born racist, but they live in a town full of racism and when their father is tasked with defending a black man, the kids will quickly learn about racism, and other dark sides of humanity.
I have only one criticism of the movie, I know that it’s probably blasphemy for me to say anything negative about a movie like this, but in my opinion the narration by the older Scout is unnecessary. I find most narration to be a sloppy and needless, I completely understand the filmmaker’s decision to use it in the movie but I don’t think it would hinder the movie in any way to remove it. This is more of a personal pet peeve of mine anyways, so fans of the movie please don’t take it to heart.
The story, the acting, the message, everything about this movie is spectacular and it honestly holds up today. To Kill a Mockingbird is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best movies of all time, and should be watched by all.
My Grade: A+
Thanks for Reading,
Mitch Burns, The Hollywood Persona
1. I want to go as a ham for Halloween next year
2. Didn’t know Robert Duvall was in this movie, he plays Boo Radley if you didn’t know, and he’s unrecognizable.
3. Robert Duvall is one of only two adult cast members still living today, the other is Rosemary Murphy who played Maudie.