Rarely is a book and its film adaptation loved in equal measure. But such is the case with To Kill a Mockingbird.
The book continues to remain a perennial favorite amongst school teachers, librarians, and avid readers young and old, while the film remains one of the most beloved cinematic classics of all time.
I recommend experiencing both, at least once. Preferably more.
The book was written by Harper Lee, and is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in the Depression-era South (the character of Scout is Lee’s surrogate, while the character of Scout’s cousin Dill is based on Truman Capote, who was a close friend of Lee’s.) It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960, no doubt to Capote’s chagrin.
The film came out in 1962. It was shot entirely on the Universal backlot (in California, not Alabama, where the story takes place).
From the moment he first read the book, actor Gregory Peck knew he was born to play Atticus Finch, the widowed father and courageous attorney who defends a black man accused of rape. Before he’d been cast, Peck had initially tried to buy the film rights himself. Once Peck secured the role, he didn’t disappoint, and his performance earned him an Academy Award–and a permanent place in film history. In 2003, The American Film Institute voted Atticus Finch the Number 1 Movie Hero of All Time.
Attention should also be paid to director Robert Mulligan and screenwriter Horton Foote, whose efforts succeeded in capturing the tone of Lee’s novel with tremendous subtlety, while creating a film that stands completely on its own; to Brock Peters for his performance as Tom Robinson; and to Robert Duvall, for his performance as “Boo” Radley. Foote also won an Oscar for his work on the film. (Twenty-one years later, Foote and Duvall would work together again on the 1983 film Tender Mercies. For that film, Foote would win his second Oscar, Duvall would win his first.)
Why do people adore this story (the book and the film) so much? Perhaps because of its themes of childhood and lost innocence. Perhaps because it effectively dramatizes the harrowing effects of racism and segregation. Perhaps because of Scout, its plucky Tomboy heroine, who even the most cynical reader/moviegoer can’t help but find endearing. Or perhaps because, deep down, it’s the story of a father and the enormous love he has for his children. And the love his children have for him.
Whatever the reasons, it’s probably a good bet that To Kill a Mockingbird (the film) will continue to be seen by generations of moviegoers — indeed, it may be one of the few black-and-white classics in this millennium that will enjoy that luxury. Specific to its time yet universal in its themes, thought-provoking yet entertaining (and yes, just a wee bit sentimental), it’s the kind of film that reminds us of the power of great stories. Great stories — the stories that we remember, the stories that leave an impression, the stories that might even change our lives — don’t simply transport us to a different world. They help us find a deeper meaning in our own.
By the way, To Kill a Mockinbird (129 mins.) lost the Oscar for Best Picture to Lawrence of Arabia (216 mins). One can argue which film is better. No one can argue which film is longer. But few would deny that when it comes to popularity and public sentiment, the Desert Warrior is no match for the Mockingbird.
Proof that it’s not the length of the film that matters. It’s the length of time it lasts in our memories. And our lives.
(P.S. — This blog post goes out to my mom, whose birthday is today and whose favorite film To Kill a Mockingbird. Happy birthday, mom!!!)SHARE