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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird on DVD

Families Valued

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 and age.

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, Paul Fix
Produced by Alan Pakula
Written by Horton Foote, directed by Robert Mulligan


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Updated May 13, 2006