For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a dramatic and wonderful film about the summer that two siblings will never forget which changed their lives forever. Narrated by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, (Mary Badham), we see the entire film from her point of view. She lives with her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) and their widowed father, Atticus (Gregory Peck) in Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930’s. The story covers the time that shapes the sibling’s lives in years to come. They begin as innocent children- spending their days playing and spying on Arthur “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall)- the neighboorhood recluse.
Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus is a town lawyer with a strong belief that everyone should be treated fairly, that you should stand for what you believe in, and help those whom you are in a position of protecting. Through their father’s work, the kids learn about poverty and racism, maturing quickly as they are exposed to more and more of it. Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), an African American man who is accused of the rape of a white teenage girl, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox). Atticus accepts, and we see his children taunted for his decision at their school. Later, as Atticus is standing guard over Tom to protect him from a mob, Scout, Jem and their friend Dill interupt the confrontation. Scout, unaware of the meaning behind the gathered group, recognizes the mob’s leader as Mr. Cunningham, a poverty stricken local who has paid Atticus in hickory nuts for his services in the past. She asks him to say hello to his son, who is her schoolmate. He is embarrassed and shamed, and the crowd disperses. Little Scout unknowingly defuses the tense situation.
We finally come to (one of the) climaxes of the film- the trial of Tom Robinson. Scout and Jem watch from the second floor viewing area- where all of the African Americans in attendance must sit. Atticus presents a convincing case. He points out Tom’s crippled left arm, and in contrast, the fact that Mayella’s father is left handed- implying that her father beat her instead of Tom. He also stated that the girl had not been examined after the supposed rape- so how were they to know that it really happened? In closing Atticus asked the all male, all white jury to cast aside their prejudices and instead focus on the facts of Tom’s obvious innocence. In taking the stand in his own defense, Tom testifies that he assisted her with destroying a chifforobe the day in question (and with other tasks previous times) because he felt pity for her, due to her circumstances in life. His sympathy for Mayella dooms his case in the town where whites view themselves as superior.
Right after the trial, Atticus arrives home to hear that Tom has been killed by a deputy during his transportation to prison in a supposed escape attempt. At this time, Scout and Jem are at their school Halloween pagent, where Scout is wearing a ham costume – portraying one of the Maycomb county’s products. After the event is over she finds that her dress and shoes have been misplaced, so she is forced to walk home in her ham costume, with her brother Jem leading the way. Scout noted this moment in her narration as a defining time for her brother. On the way home they are attacked by someone who has followed them into the woods. Scout’s costume protects her from the attack, but inhibits her movements and her vision. Jem is knocked unconscious, their attacker is overcome by another unidentified man, and Scout escapes after a brief violent struggle. She manages to get out of her costume in time to see Jem being carried home by an unknown man. She follows, and back at home finds out that Jem has a broken arm. We learn from Sheriff Tate that the attacker was the vengeful Bob Ewell, the drunkard father of Mayella, the girl Tom Robinson allegedly raped. He is found dead in the woods with a knife in his ribs.
Scout notices Arthur “Boo” Radley standing in the corner of the room and recognizes him as the man who came to their aid in the woods. Sheriff Tate believes that Boo has justifiably murdered Ewell to protect the children, and tells Atticus that to drag the socially shy Boo into the spotlight for his heroism would be “a sin.” To protect Boo, he suggests that Ewell “fell on his knife.” Our wise little Scout draws a startling analogy to an earlier lesson in the film when she likens public recognition of they shy and reclusive Boo to killing a mockingbird.
This is an amazing film which had an influence on the style and direction of modern films- and also had so many fantastic acting performances. Atticus as the fatherly ‘Lincoln’ figure is spot on- as are the children’s innocense and curiosity. It is a timeless tale that is a faithful adaptation of the novel, and is a classic coming of age tale. It is storytelling in film at its best- the camera angles are perfect in telling the story from a child’s subjective experience. This film is a truly heartfelt and moving, and should be a must-see for everyone.
In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer onion this movie earns: