Coming of age with 'Mockingbird'
WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley looks back at how 'Mockingbird' changed our world.
Jason Fraley, WTOP Film Critic
WASHINGTON - "Mockingjay" meet "Mockingbird."
A new, 50th Anniversary Blu Ray of "To Kill a Mockingbird" marks arguably the greatest novel-to-film adaptation that's ever been done, making "The Hunger Games" look like child's play.
Readers recently voted "Mockingbird" the greatest novel of all time, ahead of "The Lord of the Rings," "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Da Vinci Code."
Meanwhile, the American Film Institute ranked it the #2 Most Inspirational Movie, behind only "It's a Wonderful Life" and ahead of "Schindler's List," "Rocky," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "E.T."
Sure, there have been better movies made from books (i.e. "The Godfather"), but the book-to-film ratio may be highest with Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winner and Robert Mulligan's Oscar winner. With a sparkling script by Horton Foote, infectious music by Elmer Bernstein and a power performance by Gregory Peck, the film will easily stand the test of time.
To me, its power boils down to just five words, spoken in two separate greetings.
"Hey, Mr. Cunnigham."
In just three innocent words, six-year-old Scout Finch sends a shot of guilt through the heart of her Alabama neighbor and diffuses a KKK lynch mob.
In just two, she outgrows her childhood fears to see things from another's point of view, learning why it's a "sin to kill a mockingbird."
The novel was released in 1960 and adapted for the screen in 1962 -- a year before Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. While it was a coming-of-age story for its young characters, it was also a coming-of-age moment for our country during the tumult of the Civil Rights Movement.
A half century later, a statue to King stands on the National Mall, students grow up reading the book in high school, and a 50th Anniversary Blu Ray marks the time perfectly.
Disc One features a newly remastered print of the film, restored from the 35 millimeter original. Take it from me, it's never looked better.
Disc Two is full of extras, including Gregory Peck's Oscar acceptance speech and a full-length "making of" documentary.
You'll learn fun facts, like the character "Dill" was based on Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote, whom she helped to write "In Cold Blood."
You'll also find interviews with Robert Duvall, who made his film debut as the ever-shy Boo Radley, and of course Peck, who turned Atticus Finch into the AFI's greatest movie hero of all time, ahead of Indiana Jones ("Raiders of the Lost Ark"), James Bond ("Dr. No"), Rick Blaine ("Casablanca") and Will Kane ("High Noon"). How fitting, as Indy himself called "Mockingbird" his favorite film.
In a day in age where watching a Blu Ray at home sounds just as good as a trip to the theaters, we should cherish our newfound access to the extraordinary films that have changed our world.
"In our courts," Atticus said, "all men are created equal."
All films are not -- an unfortunate reality Peck articulated in his 1989 AFI Lifetime Achievement Award speech (also featured on Disc Two):
"Making millions is not the whole ballgame, fellas. Pride of workmanship is worth more. Artistry is worth more. The human imagination is a priceless resource. The public is ready for the best that you can give them. It just may be that you can't make a buck and at the same time encourage, foster and commission work of quality and originality."
Here's to quality and originality, along with the four words Peck scribbled into the margins of his script: "Fairness. Stubbornness. Courage. Love."
★ ★ ★ ★
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)