To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

In 1979, I moved to Lovingston Virginia. Most recent population count: 1,792. I lived just north of town in a trailer park. Population: 8. One day I was walking in the town itself. As I was walking by a house, I noticed on the porch was a woman, with what appeared to be her granddaughter. I had never met them, nor they me. I waved. They waved back. As I walked past, I heard the little girl ask her elder, “Who was that?” The elder’s reply? “I don’t know. He waved, didn’t he?”

Though that was 1979, I imagine it’s pretty much the same now in 2010. As I’m sure it also was in 1932. That’s the year of the events in “To Kill A Mockingbird“. If you’ve never lived in a small town, this movie will show you what it’s like. It will also show you that behind the doors of those small-town houses are innocence, loyalty, ignorance, bigotry, and integrity.

Told through the eyes of siblings Jeb and Scout, (Phillip Alford and Mary Badham) children of lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck). Their adventures of childhood are contrasted with the very adult story of a black man (Brock Peters) wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Atticus has been chosen to defend the man. Remember, this is the deep South in 1932.

The trial itself takes up 32 minutes of the movie. A more riveting 32 minutes of film would be hard to find. Did I say hard to find? What I really meant was, don’t even try, it’s not possible. A stand out is the questioning of the accuser, Mayella Ewell (played by Collin Paxton) by Atticus. Was she really an actress? Or was this the real Mayella sprung to life from the pages of the screenplay? Hard to say.

The summation of Atticus to the jury can only be described in one word. Actually, there is no appropriate word. You’ll have to watch it. Just don’t forget to start breathing again when he’s done. Also, this nine minute speech was shot one take. The word for that is UNBELIEVABLE.

The Director, Robert Mulligan, frames the shots artistically, yet never becomes gimmicky. With this script and actors, no gimmicks needed. But the scenes are beautifully shot.

To Kill A Mockingbird makes you think of the time when the night-time sky was truly dark. When there was silence, not because of good sound-proofing, but because it was the end of the day. When a rustle in the wind made a child think of monsters. And that sometimes those monsters were more real than we wanted to believe.


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