Landmark Southern film 'To Kill A Mockingbird' resonates worldwide

Landmark Southern film 'To Kill A Mockingbird' resonates worldwide

November 30th, 2012 by Holly Leber in Life Entertainment

Gregory Peck is shown as attorney Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape, in a scene from the 1962 movie "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

MOCKINGBIRD MOMENTS

• Finch was the maiden name of author Harper Lee's mother.

• Rock Hudson was the studio's first choice for the role of Atticus Finch. James Stewart was also offered the part, but he thought the script was "too liberal" and controversial.

• The character of Dill reportedly is based upon Truman Capote, who became a childhood friend of Harper Lee because every summer he was sent to Monroeville, Ala., where she lived, to stay with relatives.

• The courtroom is a near-exact replica of the Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville. Before filming started, designers went to Monroeville and took exact measurements of the courtroom, then built it -- and also the entire town seen in the film -- on a Hollywood backlot.

•The piano in Elmer Bernstein's score was played by John Williams, who has won five Oscars for his film scores. Among his films are "Jaws," "Star Wars," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Superman," "Schindler's List" and "JFK."

•Gregory Peck's nine-minute closing argument to the jury was done in a single take.

•At 10 years old, Mary Badham, who played Scout Finch, was the youngest girl to receive an Oscar nomination, but she lost to another child actress, Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker."

• Atticus Finch is modeled on Harper Lee's father, Amasa Lee, an attorney who in 1923 defended a black client. The watch used by Peck in the film is a prop, but Lee gave Peck her father's real watch because he reminded her so much of her father in the movie.

• Mary Badham is the sister of John Badham, who directed such films as "Die Hard," "Saturday Night Fever," "Short Circuit" and "WarGames."

• Brock Peters, who played defendant Tom Robinson, delivered Peck's eulogy on the day of his funeral and burial on June 16, 2003.

• It was the film debut of Academy Award-winning actor Robert Duvall. He played Boo Radley and stayed out of the sun for six weeks prior to filming because the book described the character as blond and pale.

Source: IMDB.com

It is the story that, for the last half of the 20th century, has given literature and film lovers a hero and a father.

It is the story that teaches us that "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

Christmas Day marks the 50th anniversary of the Los Angeles premiere of the beloved film "To Kill A Mockingbird," based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book written by Alabamian Harper Lee, steeped deeply in the culture of the South yet brimming with an emotional resonance that continues to ripple around the world.

"I believe it remains the best translation of a book to film ever made," author Harper Lee told the American Film Institute this year, "and I'm proud to know that Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch lives on -- in a world that needs him now more than ever."

On April 5, 2012, which would have been Peck's 96th birthday, a special screening of the film was introduced by President Barack Obama.

"'To Kill A Mockingbird' brought to life an unforgettable tale of courage and conviction," Obama said, "of doing what was right, no matter what the cost."

Set in Maycomb, Ala., during the Great Depression, "To Kill A Mockingbird" tells the story of young Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, who lives with her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus, an attorney. Much to the dismay of many of the citizens of Maycomb, Atticus takes a case defending a black man accused of raping a white woman.

"('To Kill A Mockingbird') made public what everyone else was thinking to themselves," Edgard Mejia posted on the Times Free Press Facebook page, "that skin color didn't make you right or wrong -- your deeds made you so."

Rodney Strong was the stage manager when the Chattanooga Theatre Centre staged "To Kill A Mockingbird" in 1992. His connection with Harper Lee's classic goes back much further than that, however.

"I read it when I was in eighth grade," he said, "and it was very meaningful for me personally," especially the character of Atticus Finch, who "fascinated" him.

"It was about that time I was thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up," he said. "The portrayal of Atticus as an attorney persuaded me that that's what I wanted to do with my life."

Peck's performance as Atticus -- which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor -- left an indelible impression on Strong as well.

"I can't imagine any other actor having done Atticus Finch," he said. "It's one of the most powerful portrayals. He does such a good job of portraying a man doing an unpleasant task to the best of his abilities."

Jonathan Lampley, an assistant professor of English as Dalton State College who also teaches film courses, says he doesn't usually show the movie as part of his classes but calls it "a well-made and influential movie."

"I think it's important because of the way it illustrates the issues of race and class in the small-town South," he says. "In terms of film history, it is significant because it involves a major Hollywood studio making a movie with a message, which means it must balance that message with entertainment value.

"Certainly I think it would be a good idea to show the movie to students who have been assigned the book to read," he continues. "Comparing the book to the movie and debating the comparable merits would be an excellent critical thinking exercise."

The American Film Institute ranks "To Kill a Mockingbird" at No. 25 on its top 100 films of all time list, but it rates the character of Atticus as the No. 1 hero of cinematic history, ranked above Robin Hood, Han Solo, Moses and Batman. In "To Kill a Mockingbird," Atticus does such heroic acts as defending a black man in the 1930s in the South, shoots a rabid dog, facing down a lynch mob and being a protective, loving father.

"Atticus Finch is so understated, even in the book," said Sherry Poff, a member of the Classic Literature Book Club in Chattanooga. "He almost reminds you of Superman, because he wears those glasses and then, when he is going to shoot the dog, he pushes the glasses up."

Lampley calls Peck's performance "one of the greatest portrayals of good old-fashioned decency in the history of American cinema."

The book was adapted by playwright Horton Foote, who received an Academy Award for his screenplay. While the role is considered Peck's greatest, Universal Studios originally wanted Rock Hudson to play the part of the Finch father.

"For all the films we have about a father protecting his family and for standing up for what's right," film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz told the Huntsville (Ala.) Times. "I don't know (if) you can do better."