When Scout was only six years old,
The Great Depression on the rise,
Her brother Jem and she were told
The mad Boo Radley lived next door.
Their father Atticus so wise
Forbade it, but they’d still explore.
A lawyer, Atticus was sent
To represent a colored man
Accused of rape but innocent.
Bob Ewell, father of the victim,
Hated them and soon began
To stalk the man who’d contradict him.
Scout and Jem and their friend Dill
Stuck up for Atticus one night.
Despite the backlash, Finch would still
Defend despised Tom Robinson.
In court, he put up quite the fight
But could not convince everyone.
Although he could not save poor Tom,
Finch nonetheless gained much respect,
But Ewell still could not stay calm
And tried assaulting Scout and Jem.
Then someone turned up to protect,
Dispatching Ewell and saving them.
Their rescuer turned out to be
The “maniac” they knew as Boo,
And for his gracious gallantry,
Both Sheriff Tate and Finch concurred
That they would hide Radley from view,
To spare him, like a mockingbird.

Among all the sci-fi blockbusters and upbeat comedies on my list, To Kill a Mockingbird is a thoughtful step back into the past, to a time when schoolyard arguments and slamming screen doors were a child’s main worries.  As readers can probably gather from my list choices thus far, I’m not much for old black-and-white movies, usually because they are overacted, boring, or both.  Yet certain films exude classic-ness and create stories and characters that truly deserve all the accolades they received.  Based on Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is such a film.

Gregory Peck won his lone Oscar for his captivating turn as Atticus Finch, whose gentle guidance for his children and dauntless stand for justice earned him the number one slot on AFI’s best Heroes list.  It’s a quietly persuasive performance, and his stirring soliloquy at the end of the trial is an effective discourse urging the jury to buck expectations as he did, not for the sake of rebellion or sanctimony but for what is clearly right.  My VC considers Peck the film’s greatest strength, whereas his children are its weakness.  Mary Badham and Philip Alford (“the boy” in Shenandoah) as Scout and Jem are cute and believable as a pair of inquisitive youngsters, but as admirable a father as Atticus is, he hasn’t imparted to them the importance of obedience.  He tells them not to bother the Radleys, not to stay with him at the prison, not to fight at school, not to attend the trial, all rules they flout. Call it realistic juvenility, but their constant sneaking around in the first half wears on one’s patience. That being said, the children’s scenes include both warmhearted nostalgia and surprising tension that mostly make up for their mild misbehavior. Other actors are in fine form, including James K. Anderson as the menacing Bob Ewell, an Oscar-worthy Brock Peters as the defamed Tom Robinson, and a silent Robert Duvall in his first film role as Arthur “Boo” Radley.

One point on which I want to expand is the similarity and superiority of To Kill a Mockingbird’s denouement with that of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.  (Spoiler alert)  In the second film of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, DA Harvey Dent went mad as Two-Face, murdered multiple victims, and was finally brought down.  Yet Batman and Police Commissioner Gordon believed that his prior image of resolute justice was more important than the truth, and they lied, turning Dent into a martyr and Batman into a criminal.  This strange decision of what they thought was right irked me, but the similar decision about Boo Radley made clear to me the reason why.  Whereas Dent slaughtered people who supposedly deserved it (according to the flip of a coin) in cold blood, Boo killed one man who had proved himself a liar and a likely child beater and who was in the act of attacking two innocents. The decision to cover-up Boo’s crime was likewise made by the hero and the head of police, who did so not because the town couldn’t handle it but to protect a sincere guard from the wrath of good-ol’-boys who surely would not understand.  The choice made by Batman and Gordon seemed arbitrary, covering up unjustifiable actions of a dead man for the sake of a sterling reputation that had been undermined.  They didn’t know what would happen if the truth had simply been broadcast; it certainly would have been better coming from them than from a demagogue like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.  On the other hand, Atticus’ decision is more defensible because he knew from immediate experience how townspeople would react to the murder of one of their own, and he agreed to the deception to save the life and peace of a man who had rescued his children. I cannot see myself agreeing to Batman’s dishonesty; Atticus Finch’s I can.

To Kill a Mockingbird is undeniably classic, and I personally consider it a better film and more deserving of the Best Picture Academy Award than that year’s Lawrence of Arabia, despite the latter’s epic portrayal of a real-life character, which is typical Oscar fodder.  My VC summed up the film’s message as the clichéd “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” or a recluse by rumors, or an accused Negro by societal convention.  Though its titular comparison doesn’t precisely fit Boo’s situation, Mockingbird’s sentimental depiction of down-to-earth fatherhood and judicial defense of what’s right continue to make it a must-see drama.

Best line: (Reverend Sykes to Scout, after witnessing Finch’s fruitless but laudable efforts in court) “Miss Jean Louise.  Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father’s passin’.”

Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 7
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 9
Watchability: 6
Other (admirable depiction of fatherhood and what’s right): +9
TOTAL: 51 out of 60

Next: #109 – The Iron Man Trilogy

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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