Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tonight's Movie: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

It's finally time for the final review from my list of 10 Classics to see in 2016, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962).

This was, to be honest, the only film on last year's list which I didn't really enjoy. Though I've not felt drawn to the story over the years, I did expect to like the film more than I did, especially because of Gregory Peck. He's wonderful, but I didn't care for much else about either the story or the movie's style.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is, of course, based on the novel by Harper Lee. The screenplay was written by Lee and Horton Foote.

It's the story of six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford), who live with their widowed attorney father, Atticus (Peck), in a small Southern town during the Great Depression.

The children have a loving relationship with their father and are also cared for by housekeeper Calpurnia (Estelle Evans) and thoughtful neighbor Miss Maudie (Rosemary Murphy), but otherwise life in town is filled with fearful and unpleasant characters.

And while the children navigate a challenging environment, including difficult experiences at school, their father is appointed to defend a young black man (Brock Peters) wrongly accused of rape.

The movie felt similar in some ways to STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), in which an honorable preacher raises his orphaned nephew and deals with bigotry, but I think the warm, lovingly made and less self-conscious STARS IN MY CROWN is much the superior film.

There seems to be a certain style of Very Important Movie of the late '50s/early '60s which just doesn't work for me, feeling phony, unrealistic, negative, or all three. 12 ANGRY MEN (1957) and INHERIT THE WIND (1960) are two additional examples; interestingly, all three films have courtroom settings.

My problem with these movies isn't about the depiction of legal injustices or the like. It’s more a certain self-important tone and general attitude that the world is a rotten place.

In the case of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I felt wary from the slow, artsy-craftsy opening credits, which practically screamed “syrupy, sad movie coming”!

Peck was absolutely wonderful, of course, but other than his character’s parental warmth and honor, I didn’t find much of interest about the story.

I didn’t care for the Scout character or the kids in the movie in general – and what’s with calling their father by his first name? -- and I especially didn’t enjoy the children having one sour experience after another, whether dealing with various neighbors or at school. Other than some caring adults in their lives, there was no hint of happy childhood experiences to balance out the darkness.

Atticus Finch might be a shining beacon of what is good in the world, but much of the film was spent depicting why his town was a pretty terrible place to grow up. All in all, not that pleasant to watch, and not a movie I expect to return to anytime soon.

I can understand to a certain extent why so many people admire the film, but it's just not my cup of the proverbial tea. And that makes the proverbial world go 'round!

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was directed by Robert Mulligan and filmed by Russell Harlan. It runs a long 129 minutes.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is available on DVD and Blu-ray, and it can be streamed via Amazon.

Onward to my 2017 list! I'll be reviewing my first film from that list, BATTLEGROUND (1949), in the near future.


Blogger mel said...

I concur, Laura. I watched it not long ago, never having seen it before, and didn't enjoy it at all. It's certainly not a film that I would watch again.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Mel!

I had thought I might be alone in my "contrarian" take on this film so was quite interested that you recently had a similar reaction.

It was kind of a relief to go from this film to Buster Keaton! :) I'll have a review of another new Keaton set from Kino Lorber up in the next day or two.

Best wishes,

11:33 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Hi Laura, count me in with you and Mel (I also can't stand 12 ANGRY MEN, or INHERIT THE WIND.) "Very Important Movie" syndrome is a good way to describe it. As well as "phony, unrealistic," etc.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Maricatrin,

Thanks for your note! I'm rather fascinated to learn I'm not the "only one" reacting as I did. Another friend shared similar thoughts with me on Twitter. Very interesting and unexpected.

Best wishes,

12:02 AM  

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