"To Kill a Mockingbird" is an interesting character
study, with a thoughtful script. While its treatment
of racism is somewhat heavy-handed and simplistic,
the film is well cast and is redeemed by excellent
Based on the semi-autographical bestseller by Harper Lee
(her only novel), the story is set in a sleepy rural
Alabama town during the Great Depression. Atticus Finch
(Gregory Peck) defends a black man (Brock Peters) unjustly
accused of raping a disturbed white woman (Collin Wilcox).
Finch is a widower with two young children, Scout (Mary Badham)
and Jem (Phillip Alford). The children are fascinated
with reclusive, possibly retarted neighbor Boo Radley
(Robert Duvall, in his film debut).
Peck's character is similar to his in "Gentleman's Agreement",
an even better film which had him battling prejudice
against Jews. In that film, he was also a widower and a
parent, and was willing to tackle an unpopular cause because
it was the right thing to do. There is also an element of
"Cape Fear", where he had to protect his family from a
sinister bogeyman (there, Robert Mitchum, here, James Anderson).
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is told from the perspective of
Scout, whose character represents the author. Taking the
focus partly off Peck lightens the film, and the scenes of
the children playing are effective.
Still, the film isn't perfect. Peck is confronted by the
tamest lynch mob in film history. Other than a welcome
burst of anger from Peck's maid (Estelle Evans), the black
characters are relentlessly noble and gentle. Atticus Finch
also seems misplaced in the small town, and perhaps his
character is too close to walking on water.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" was nominated for eight Academy
Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Mulligan),
Best Original Score (Elmer Bernstein), Best B/W Cinematography
(Russell Harlan). Peck won Best Actor, and Horton Foote won
for his adapted screenplay. It was Peck's only Oscar, following
four losing nominations, including "Gentleman's Agreement".
Copyright © 1996 Brian Koller