“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
Regardless of how one feels about Peck’s performance, To Kill a Mockingbird remains a classic on many levels — beginning with Elmer Bernstein’s instantly recognizable score, which is impossible to extricate from one’s experience of the film. Equally poignant is Atticus’s relationship with his kids: Peck most definitely was “the man you’d want for your father”, and it’s hard to believe any child watching this movie wouldn’t melt with envy at the sight of Atticus cuddling Scout (Badham) in his lap, or allowing Jem (Alford) the opportunity to accompany him on a life-changing visit to Peters’ house. Speaking of Scout and Jem, the screenplay’s child-driven perspective (Kim Stanley narrates in flashback, as Scout-grown-up) is yet another successful facet: the entire story is framed within the nostalgia-tinged reminiscences of a young girl smitten by her father’s love, courage, and wisdom. TKAM could be viewed as a meditation on the universal desire — however fleeting — to admire one’s parent(s) as the epitome of all that is right about the world.
Badham and Alford’s performances (neither pursued a long-term acting career) are among the best given by child actors; while Megna is fine as young Truman Capote (er, “Dill”), he’s clearly more suited to a supporting role. Peters, previously cast as villains, is heartbreaking as the wrongly accused man who had the temerity to “feel sorry for a white woman”; his impossible situation highlights racism’s toxic blight on humanity, a reality which Horton Foote doesn’t shy away from in his adapted screenplay. With that said, it’s a little disconcerting
how abruptly the narrative shifts in the final half-hour from Peters’ brutal murder to the subplot about a mysterious, “ultra-white” neighbor (Duvall) who saves Atticus’s kids. Ultimately, however, the ending vividly illustrates the need for decent individuals to protect one another no matter the cost, and for diversity to be not only accepted but embraced.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)