Starring: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters
Director: Robert Mulligan
Harper Lee was a lucky woman. She obviously had a moral giant of a father who taught her some big lessons in life; lessons about courage, dignity and justice. Mr Lee was a practising lawyer in Alabama during the early 1930s and provided the template for the character of Atticus Finch in her semi-autobiographical novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – a character who, in the hands of Gregory Peck in the film adaptation, was recently named by the American Film Institute as the Number One Hero of All Time.
Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote also got a look in as the model for Dill, an ‘overdressed runt of a boy’ who dares Atticus’ two children, Scout and Jem, to ever more dangerous pursuits when he comes to stay in the neighbourhood during the summer holidays. Most risqué of all is a raid on the lock up where a black man is being held before being tried for allegedly raping a white woman. Atticus has been chosen by the Sheriff to defend the accused and is on night watch when the town’s rednecks come looking to do a little lynching. It’s only the presence of the children that stops them from carrying out their heinous intentions.
Coming as it did, right on the cusp of the American Civil Rights movement, the novel caused a sensation, winning the Pulitzer Prize and spawning a screen adaptation that scooped several Academy Awards including Best Screenplay (Horton Foote), Best Production Design (Henry Bumstead) and Best Actor.
Gregory Peck is impeccable as Atticus, especially in the scenes with 13 year-old Phillip Alford and 9 year-old Mary Badham. Like all kids, these two have the ability to run amok, tempting fate with the bogeyman down the road (Robert Duvall) and, in the case of Jem, pestering his father for a gun. When Atticus was about the same age, his father gave him a gun but with one proviso: never kill a mockingbird – the reason being that these fine feathered friends sing their hearts out just to please folk and to shoot them would be nothing short of a sin – just as would wrongly condemning a man to death for no other reason than the colour of his skin.