To Kill a Mockingbird on DVD
If this wonderful movie were done today, its message would be politically
correct in the extreme, and probably delivered with the subtlety of a
sledgehammer. Instead, it's an uplifting and emotional film about family
and traditional values, a brilliant achievement from a bygone age of cinema.
Gregory Peck won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Atticus Finch,
a small town Southern Lawyer in 1930's America. But the movie is really
told through the eyes of his children Jem and Scout (Phillip Alford and
Mary Badham) and through their eyes we see the beginnings of a coming
of age for both them and for the nation of which they are part.
Jem and Scout are spending a hot and lazy summer hanging out with another
kid who's spending the summer visiting a nearby relative. Their biggest
excitement revolves around the legend of Boo Radley, a rarely seen neighbor
who's the closest thing the kids have to a boogey man, and they get their
thrills from trying to catch a glimpse of him through the windows of his
decrepit house down the street.
Then Atticus is called on to defend a local black man charged with raping
a white woman, and all the pent up hostility and prejudice of the era
is brought down on him and his family. The kids are ridiculed at school
and their lives are generally made difficult by the town's kids and parents.
Peck's Atticus is a quiet, decent, and strong man - a man interested
in seeing that justice is blind and that justice is done. To his kids,
he's a God; he always knows the answers to their questions and he never
talks down to them or patronizes them.
Then they begin to figure out that he might be in trouble thanks to the
case he's defending, and in one beautifully staged, emotionally powerful
scene they actually though unwittingly come to his rescue when he single-handedly
faces down a lynch mob.
In the end, the kids learn some important life lessons about not judging
a book by its cover (only part of which has to do with skin color), the
importance of duty, honesty, and honor - and they make an interesting
new friend in the bargain.
Sounds trite, doesn't it? As mentioned above, it probably would be trite
done in today's Hollywood, but this 1962 film is a towering achievement
that everyone should see.
Peck deserved his Oscar, but he doesn't really stand head and shoulders
above a first rate supporting cast that also includes John Megna, Ruth
White, Paul Fix, Brock Peters, Frank Overton, Rosemary Murphy, Collin
Wilcox, William Windom and others - including a very young Robert Duvall.
Collectively, and with the production values and outstanding direction,
they combine to make us feel the era in our bones.
The Universal Home Video DVD is a special Collector's Edition and includes
a wonderful, full length documentary "Fearful Symmetry," but it falls
down as a DVD in a very important way.
And that's that this widescreen release is NOT ANAMORPHIC! It's merely
"letterboxed" and that means it looks fine on "old style" 4x3 TV's, but
people with widescreen TV's will have to zoom or stretch the picture to
fill their 16x9 screens. This is an unforgiveable oversight in this day
Other than that, the picture quality is very good, though.
The audio is Dolby Digital 2 channel mono, and the sound quailty is okay,
but we would have preferred the mono sound to have been directed to the
center front channel rather than the two main speakers; it would sound
more as if it were coming from the screen (depending where you sit in
the room, the 2 channel method could sound as if it's coming from just
about anywhere between the two main speakers).
Besides the excellent documentary, other extras include a good liner
note essay, theatrical trailers and an audio commentary by director Robert
Mulligan and producer Alan J. Pakula.
To Kill a Mockingbird, from Universal Home Video
130 min. widescreen letterbox (1.85:1), not 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby
Digital 2 channel mono
Starring Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, John Megna, Ruth White,
Produced by Alan Pakula
Written by Horton Foote, directed by Robert Mulligan
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