When it comes to movies that are adapted from books it is rare to come across a film that actually does the book justice; “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of these rare finds. Often described as, “The most beloved Pulitzer Prize Winning book” To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, is a favorite of mine. The movie adapted from the famous book is listed as #25 on Greatest Movies of All Time by the American Film Institute. The movie brings the beloved characters of; Atticus Finch, Jem and Scout, and Boo Radley to life, and is in the top five on my personal list.
Only a few movies have ever been created in such a way that the actors embody every essence of the character in which they portray; Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, and superbly translates his character on screen. The chemistry between Gregory Peck and his on screen children played by Mary Badham and Phillip Alford is excellent; it feels natural and aids to the belief that they are family. We are first introduced to Jem and Scout and backstory is quickly explained through dialogue when they show their new friend, Dil, around town. This is effective because the audience is also given an introduction.
During the introductions, Jem and Scout introduce their father as Atticus, and continue to call him by his first name throughout. This action can be mistaken for a lack of respect, but this is a wrong interpretation. Jem and Scout respect their father, and the audience discovers that their respect and honor for him will deepen as the movie progresses. Atticus allows them to call him by his first name because he treats them like adults. He gives them direction and they follow, but they also have the freedom to disagree and disobey if appropriate. We can see this specifically in the scene where Atticus sits outside the jail to prevent the lynch mob from getting to Tom. Atticus tells his children to go home, however they refuse, and it is because of their refusal that the mob is then disbanded. But, is it because of the example Atticus sets for them that they are respectable children and do not take advantage of their freedom.
Atticus Finch appears to be the protagonist of the film, but he is not the only one. Scout functions as another protagonist as the story is narrated by her and tells of her experiences against conflict as well. Thus, explaining why there are two different stories unfolding, each with its own theme and players involved.
The main conflict deals with Man vs. Society. Atticus, a lawyer is asked to defend Tom Robinson in court, a young black man, father of four, who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman. Even though, Atticus proves beyond all reasonable doubt, the jury still delivers a guilty verdict. While the trial was going on Atticus comes face to face with past clients and members of his community who are prejudice and assume Tom Robinson to be guilty. These encounters throughout the movie compound the conflict and add tension as the hatred increases and puts Atticus’ safety and that of his children at jeopardy. Thus the film deals with racial prejudice issues dealt with in southern culture before civil rights.
However, the deeper theme explored throughout “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the transition of Jem and Scout Finch from a perspective of childhood innocence to that more of an adult perspective. At the beginning of the story both assume that people are inherently good because they have never seen evil. However, as the story unfolds both witness evil and this changes their lives and thus their understanding of the world.
Another theme explored throughout involves the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to people who are innocent specifically, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. Both are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and as a direct result both they are destroyed. This symbol or metaphor is conveyed as Atticus discusses with his children about a mockingbird being shot and killed. Even, Jem is victimized to an extent by his personal experience with the evil of racism during and after the trial. Although, Scout appears to maintain her basic belief and innocence despite the outcome of a guilty verdict for Tom Robinson, but Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is damaged.
I first read this book in sixth grade, and felt a very personal connection to Scout, as I was also going through a period of transition. The message that I get from this movie is that, “Yes, there is good and evil, but sometimes when people tell you what to believe, you need to look a little farther to discover the truth for yourself, because sometimes the good in people is buried under the lies of others.” We can see this clearly by the lies Mayella Ewell tells about Tom Robinson at first in court on the witness stand, and the lies the townsfolk tell about Boo Radley.
Although, “To Kill a Mockingbird” has a strong story, let’s not forget about the visuals. One of the classic, Crime/Dramas it also has elements of Film Noir. We can see this by the lighting and use of shadow, also the story has intrigue and mystery, which are found also within the genre. The black and white movie uses its 3 tones to convey many things. The Finchs have a very bright house, usually seen in whites and light grays, while Boo Radley’s house is dark, usually seen in dark grays even black. The sets were created on the Universal backlot, after extensive research in southern communities; such as Birmingham, Alabama the home to both Mary Badham and Phillip Alford. Art direction was formed by crewmembers that had lived or grew up in the south and Director Robert Mulligan wanted to give a convincing feel.
He also wanted to convey theme that this was a movie from a child’s point of view from the beginning. The credits which were created very carefully do not have any sound if you listen carefully, until a subtle clink of two marbles striking one another can be heard. Also the camera leans in slightly as would a child when Jem’s hands unveil what the box holds. Mulligan says he and crew, including; Henry Bumstead, Edward Muhl, and Ernest B. Wehmeyer did this on purpose. Also, if you notice throughout the movie, it is edited in a child’s state of mind. When Boo is revealed in the bedroom at the end of the movie, you see him through Scout’s eyes. Reminding us, the audience, that we are the child.
Also, throughout the film the composition of shots is fresh, varying from close-ups to two shots, and are framed with the edges of walls, doors, porch railings, and trees. Similarly, the music throughout the film is seamlessly crafted in and out, adding tension and suspense when needed, and light hearted child bewilderment at other moments. However, I did notice that some of the sound effects seemed a little off, or to stop and start again, as the camera alternated between perspectives. However, this might only be due to the limits in technology of filmmaking at the time in 1962.
As a fan of both the book and the movie, I think the ending of the movie is powerful enough to satisfy the audience. But, one of my favorite parts of the book was left out of the movie. Mrs. Dubose, a morphine addict, has a significantly smaller role in the book than she did in the book. She constantly nags Scout and Jem, and insults Atticus. One day all the nagging becomes too much, and Jem loses his temper, taking it out on her flower garden. Atticus rightly punishes, and orders him to read to Mrs. Dubose and in turn this helps her fight her addiction. When she later dies in the book, Atticus tells Jem about courage, a very strong and poignant quote. I think that if this was included in the movie, it could have added to the already strong presentation.
believe the director’s intention was to bring to life a beloved book. Screenplay writer, Horton Foote, who adapted Harper Lee’s novel made the job for Robert Mulligan much easier by writing a true to form adaptation. It was this excellent combination that yielded a critically acclaimed motion picture. “To Kill a Mockingbird” won 3 Oscars; Gregory Peck for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Art/Set Direction, and Best Screenplay. In addition is was also nominated in 5 other categories at the Academy Awards in 1963 including, Mary Badham for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Director, and Best Picture. The film was also nominated for 12 other awards and won 11; including Gregory Peck for Best Motion Picture Actor and Best Score at the Golden Globes, and Best Written American Drama at the Writer’s Guild of America awards.