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| With: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, John Megna, Ruth White, Paul Fix, Brock Peters, Frank Overton, Rosemary Murphy, Collin Wilcox |
| Written by: Horton Foote, based on the novel by Harper Lee |
| Directed by: Robert Mulligan |
| MPAA Rating: Unrated |
| Running Time: 130 |
| Date: 25/12/1962 |
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To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Little Boy Boo
By Jeffrey M. Anderson To Kill a Mockingbird shouldn't work. It's a very dignified, glossy production of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, aimed directly at year-end awards. It's preachy, and puffed-up with self-importance over its theme of tolerance. And the director, Robert Mulligan, never made any other films of significance, except perhaps the excellent baseball biopic Fear Strikes Out (1957).
In the lead role, Gregory Peck is insufferably stiff as Atticus Finch, a small-town lawyer so humble he gets paid in crops. Likewise, Brock Peters in the central role of Tom Robinson, the man on trial, has nothing to do but act noble.
And yet, Mary Badham as Atticus's daughter Scout is a force of nature, scrappy and natural, curious and unguarded. She and her brother (Phillip Alford) rule the film's first half, long before the trial starts. And for all his couple of minutes onscreen, Robert Duvall dominates in the mysterious Boo Radley role.
Mulligan casts the film in a gorgeous black-and-white sheen, with a palpable sense of heat and shadow. He takes his time in the story's telling and it often feels as if it's unfolding rather than being forced open.
Regardless of its flaws, it occupies a specific place in American cinema; it's easy to enjoy and hard to forget. Mary Badham never acted again, but her brother John went on to be a successful director (Saturday Night Fever, WarGames). Producer Alan J. Pakula also turned director (All the President's Men, Sophie's Choice).
In 2005, Universal released the definitive DVD version of To Kill a Mockingbird on a two-disc set, beautifully re-mastered and with tons of extras, many of which were recorded over the years for various other laserdisc and DVD releases, specifically the Pakula/Mulligan commentary track. Other extras include Peck's Best Actor Oscar acceptance speech, a clip from Peck's AFI tribute, an interview with grown-up Mary Badham, a trailer, and a making-of featurette. The fold-out disc package also comes with a beautiful set of postcards depicting the film's various international posters.
In 2012, Universal followed up with a Blu-Ray release.