To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Robert Duvall
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Production Photographs, Trailer

Based on the classic Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, "To Kill A Mockingbird" is a legendary movie, uniquely strong and sensitive about racism and the ways of the Old South during the Depression in the 1930s. It has been turned into a memorable movie masterpiece in 1962 by producer Alan Pakula and director Robert Mulligan that nicely captures the book’s essence.

Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a successful lawyer in Alabama, raising two children (Scout, played by Mary Badham, and Jem, portrayed by Phillip Alford) without their mother. When a black man is accused of raping a white woman, Atticus steps up to defend the man. Fully convinced of the man’s innocence, he causes a stir as he actually fights against the trial’s foregone conclusion. With growing admiration and fascination his children watch as their father tries to break with prejudices and biased traditions, exercising in person the kind of compas- sion and values he has been teaching them throughout their childhoods. Though Atticus is pressured and harassed on all fronts, and though he loses many friends over the course of the trial, he earns the respect and admiration of both his motherless children and the black people in this dusty, sleepy small town.

What makes this movie so special – apart from its touching upon a taboo of the time – is the fact that we witness the story’s evolution through the eyes of children. The threats, the injustice, the pain, the fears, the hopes – everything takes on new proportions when seen through the eyes of Scout and Jem. It highly enhances the movie’s impact and, while dealing with a melodramatic subject, it never feels clichéd at all. The racial prejudices and the blatant stupidity that come with the times are greatly amplified by the children’s natural impartiality and innocence. This view also introduces some interesting themes on the side, such as the haunted house next door and the old lady that supposedly eats children, that could only be sparked by the imagination of a child.

It is very hard to imagine the adaptation of this movie without Gregory Peck’s fantastic, award-winning (an Oscar and a Golden Globe) performance as Atticus Finch. He is intelligent, strong, charismatic, eloquent, sympathetic, pensive, responsible, compassionate, and very human. His acting is so natural and his interaction with the children so authentic that it seems the movie is taken from his own life. The portrayals of his children are completely stunning, too. Both were "original" Southern kids with no previous acting experience. Still, they behave so naturally in front of the camera that it truly surprises me that neither of them has furthered their acting careers, aside from one or two additional supporting parts. The movie also features a very young Robert Duvall in his first movie role. His enigmatic, somewhat disturbed, yet still sympathetic portrayal of Boo caught everyone’s eyes, building the foundation for a lasting, fruitful career.

"To Kill A Mockingbird" is a Universal "Collector’s Edition" disc, featuring a lot of extra supplements. It contains a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula as well as cast and crew biographies and the movie’s theatrical trailer.

The bonus highlight of this disc is a 90-minute long documentary about the movie, the background, the people involved, and many other things that made the movie great. It is a brand-new piece, shot in 1998, called "Fearful Symmetry", and is one of the most in-depth documentaries I have seen on any movie. The fact that it is shot entirely in black & white, like the movie itself, and its detachment from the actual production of the movie due to the difference in time make it even more interesting and memorable. The way the people involved remember the movie and its creation, the feelings they had and still have for it, and the poetic interpretation and analysis of many of the film’s scenes is highly recommended. It is an elaborate, nearly self-contained work that focuses more on the content and intentions of the movie per se, as opposed to displaying the latest FX gimmicks and showing actors and crew reciting marketing tirades, trying to sell the movie – a thing too many "Making of" documentaries concentrate on these days, degrading themselves to cheap and all-too-obvious marketing tools for my taste. The DVD comes as an <$RSDL,RSDL> disc and features a clean transfer of the movie. Hardly any speckles or dust can be found in the image, which is astounding considering the movie’s age. A few number of shots exhibit some visible film grain but that is related to the movie’s original film material and has nothing to do with its transfer to DVD.

The movie’s original mono soundtrack has been masterfully transferred to a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 channel monaural soundtrack that is just as clean as the movie’s video transfer. Elmer Bernstein’s memorable, Golden-Globe-winning score is crystal clear and transparent, exhibiting no signs of age. The quality of Bernstein’s work can easily be spotted in the film’s opening credits where his restrained piano theme perfectly underscores the childish imaginative imagery on screen. The way he approached and underscored this movie is amazing, always going with the story, never losing the innocent childlike touch. "To Kill A Mockingbird" comes in English and French language versions and is <$CC,closed captioned> in English and also contains Spanish subtitles.

"To Kill A Mockingbird" is a masterpiece that belongs in every serious movie collection. It features a number of memorable visuals and story elements, as well as outstanding performances by both actors and contributors. Universal’s release of the movie on DVD is superb, with a stunning transfer and first-class supplemental material on the disc, so don’t miss it.