The movie To Kill a Mockingbird premiered in L.A. on December 25, 1962, then in New York on February 14, 1963, but it opened nationwide 50 years ago today. Here is the movie’s original trailer:
The movie is, of course, based on the novel by Harper Lee. Horton Foote wrote the screenplay adaptation and Richard Mulligan directed the movie. It starred Gregory Peck in arguably the greatest role of his career as single father and lawyer Atticus Finch. An IMDB plot summary:
Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice.
Here is an excerpt of Finch’s summation argument in the court case:
You may listen to the entirety of Finch’s summary argument here.
The story is told through eyes of Finch’s six year-old daughter Scout played by Mary Badham:
In a pivotal scene where locals have gathered outside the jail intent on killing the defendant Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), Scout along with her brother Jem and friend Dill play a critical role:
Notice how the camera tracks through the crowd of men, intimating Scout’s perspective.
This is a powerful movie, selected by the American Film Institute as the #1 courtroom drama of all time. It is especially evocative for me because my father, an Air Force officer, attended the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama from 1963-1964. It was my first time in the segregated South and a major eye-opening experience. George Wallace, a staunch segregationist, assumed the office of Alabama’s governor in 1963. That same year, he stood in front of the doorway of the University of Alabama in an attempt to block the entrance to some African-American students. That’s a well-known event. Less familiar is the fact that in September of that year, Wallace again tried to block the desegregation of some public schools in the state — elementary schools.
I was an elementary student at that time. It was there on November 22, 1963, a school official interrupted our class to announce that President John Kennedy had been shot. Some of the students clapped.
Movies exist for any number of reasons. To Kill a Mockingbird is much more than a commentary on racism, one reason it is such a special film. But to me at its philosophical core, it is about the power of humanity against the insanity of dehumanization.
That is a big reason why To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my very favorite movies.
For more, you may go here for commentary and video about the PBS American Masters documentary “Harper Lee: Hey, Boo”. Here is a clip featuring the author:
What are your thoughts about To Kill a Mockingbird?