To Kill a Mockingbird

AFI Rank: #34
Year Released: 1962
Director: Charles Kiselyak
Actors: Gregory Peck, Frank Overton, John Megna

Released in 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird ranks #34 on the AFI top 100 movie list and shows clearly just how powerful a classic movie can be. Where many movies fade and wither in time, To Kill a Mockingbird remains just as powerful, just as memorable as when it was first filmed. In other movies the characters can feel dated. The acting can seem shoddy. People make excuses about "well, it was only the 1960s. What can you expect." THIS is what you can expect. The dialogue is stellar. The acting is superb. Even in black and white, even with the limited technology available, you get sucked in, immersed, and feel the full reality of what is going on. This is what high quality movie making is all about.

The movie is a perfect window into events which were all too familiar during the Great Depression. People struggled to get by. They had to try to pay their bills with crops grown in their back yard. People with mental illness were treated little better than dogs. Women were beaten. Into all of this comes young Scout, a girl growing up with her older brother and widowed father. She is a tomboy, eager to speak out and fight for her cause. The worst thing her brother can accuse her of is acting like a "girl". She has strong ideals and is not afraid to voice them.

Her father, a lawyer, is tapped to represent a local black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Most of the town wants to lynch the poor accused man, although some townsfolk see the injustice of it. Scout leaps into fights with her schoolmates to defend the honor of her father. And ironically, when her father is threatened, it is her willingness to speak up and say what she feels that helps to soothe the situation.

I can't say enough good things about this film. Gregory Peck is incredible. He gives just the right touch to so many scenes. You can see in his eyes the mix of emotions as he stands strong on the steps before the mob. When his son is hurt, and he's standing outside the window trying desperately to figure out what to do, my heart ached for him. His strength in the courtroom, and his tenderness with his kids is just stunning.

I have seen this movie many times, and I look forward to seeing it many more. Every time someone tries to make a case for a shoddy movie from the 60s or 50s, claiming "well it's just how movies were made back then", I point to this one. THIS is how fine movies were made in this time period. This shows great acting, great dialogue, and a mix of characters who are authentic and interesting and respectful of their origins. The mentally ill man is not treated as a joke. He is a real human being. The drunkard father, the lying daughter, and the plight of the black members of the community are all shown with clarity and realism.

It is a minor, interesting note, that despite the movie seeming to revolve around women, they never talk with each other! It's all about how men impact their lives. Scout is central but she is primarily talked to by her father and brother. Those are the influences she cares about. Only briefly does the nanny character talk with her. Similarly, the lying daughter is another key character but she is only ever talked to / at by the lawyer and her father. The movie is about how the women are handled / guided by men. I think the only time a female really talks to any of these women is when the nanny scolds Scout for how she behaves to a guest. That's the one instance in the entire film.

Highly recommended in the strongest possible words. Everyone should see this film.

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The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100