Sunday, December 5, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird

Gregory Peck is a Southern lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. Based on the novel by Harper Lee, also starring Robert Duvall, directed by Robert Mulligan.

I've never read the novel, so my opinion is only based on the film. The story is told through the eyes of the lawyer's two kids. A lot depends on the kid actors. If they screw up, the whole film will fall apart. But they are wonderful, both of them giving very natural performances. Peck is also good, playing a sort of perfect dad. However, seen today you can't help but notice how very black and white the film is, not allowing any shades of gray. The man accusing the black man of raping his daughter is almost a caricature of an ignorant, racist hillbilly. Even his name, Ewell, is a bit too obvious. Is it really that easy to spot the face of evil?


  1. Having grown up in Kentucky, I can attest that the cartoonish bumpkin stereotype is quite real. I worked factory jobs through most of college, and many of the men I worked alongside had names like Cletus and Leland, and few had graduated high school. Most of these men were older, but even amongst my generation (I'm near 30) the overt racism of the majority of lower-income whites is shocking in its ubiquity and intensity. That this was even more prevalent half a century and more ago (I forget whether Mockingbird is meant to be contemporary or a period piece) is not stretching reality at all, I think.
    What I found most fascinating about the film is how Boo Radley, with his untucked shirt, five-o'clock shadow, and unruly hair (the very measure of non-threatening insanity, I suppose) looks so strikingly modern.

  2. The story takes place during The Depression, I believe. I've been thinking about this film. Since the story is seen through the eyes of the children, I guess it works in some ways that it's so black and white. They worship their dad, and to them Ewell is some sort of monster. Maybe if the kids had been teenagers there would have been some sense of ambiguity. I should read the novel, I guess.

  3. I was thinking the same thing, about the story being told from the point of view of the children. Atticus comes across as a saintly figure, both clark kent and superman, but that's how you see your parents before the disillusionment of adolescence.

    I read the book only a couple of years ago. Horton Foote did a wonderful adaptation. The initial monologue that sets the mood of the community is taken almost verbatim from the book, and yet it feels so natural as someone telling a story orally. And the beautiful dialogue about the missing mother that Atticus overhears from the porch is not in the book and yet it feels like something that could have been.