If there is one thing people always complain about when their favorite book gets turned into a movie, it’s accuracy. Because they are two vastly different mediums for two vastly different audiences, certain changes have to be made. Sometimes those changes help, most of the time they don’t. Fortunately for fans of Harper Lee’s amazing novel (which should be most of us), the 1962 film version of her work is one of the most faithful script-to-screen adaptations ever. That’s mostly thanks to a phenomenal screenplay by noted playwright Horton Foote.
For those who somehow managed to make it through school without reading the book, the plot revolves around six-year-old Scout Finch (Mary Badham) and the growing up she’s forced to do in a small Southern town during the Great Depression. At first, she’s just a kid having fun with her older brother, Jem, and her best friend, Dill, listening to their horror stories about town recluse Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his film debut).
That all changes when her attorney father, Atticus (Gregory Peck), is appointed by the court to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man accused of raping a white girl. Over the course of the trial it becomes obvious that Tom is innocent, but that doesn’t mean anything in the 1930s Deep South. Scout learns extremely early in life that appearances can be deceiving and neighbors aren’t always friendly. I know that’s a vague description, but Lee’s story is best experienced as it unfolds naturally in front of you. That, and by now most people know it by heart.
The film, directed by Robert Mulligan, has become so ingrained into the public consciousness that the late Peck is synonymous with the role. For most people, he WAS Atticus Finch. I don’t know if his personality matched that of his onscreen counterpart, but I could think of much worse characters to be associated with.
It’s telling that the American Film Institute named Finch the number one hero on its list titled “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains” back in 2003. The character is full of such compassion, integrity and humility that it’s only natural he would be the top pick. His actions and attitude toward his fellow man are something we should all aspire to.
The main reason for the film’s success (which carries over from the book) is how it tackles such complex issues with deceptively simple storytelling. By filtering the horrors of injustice through the eyes of an innocent child, it illustrates how truly stupid and vile racism is without beating the audience over the head with the message.
Local residents interested in watching “To Kill A Mockingbird” again or for the first time are in for a treat. Friday night, March 5, The Big Read kicks off with a public screening of the film at 7 p.m. in the University of West Georgia’s Education Center. As if watching a classic isn’t enough of an incentive to attend, Scout Finch herself, Mary Badham, will be there to introduce it. The event is free, but a ticket is required for admission. For more information, visit www.wgrl.net. This is something movie fans won’t want to miss.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” is not rated.
(Got a suggestion for a future installment of Catching Up on the Classics? E-mail Josh8199@aol.com with your thoughts.)