An American Movie Classic . . . To Kill A Mockingbird

1

Harper Lee
Harper Lee

3 BILDUNGSROMAN (Pronounced, Bil – Dungs – Ro – Mon:  pretty much just as it looks) It’s a new word for me. I learned it just today, and it describes almost perfectly the contents of one of the greatest novels ever written, and one of the best movies ever made. It refers to a novel of formation, a novel of education, and also of coming-of-age, or of a person’s spiritual and moral growth. A literary genre that focuses on the psychological progression of a person from youth to adulthood. In it, character change is of extreme importance. It’s about the setting aside of childish things, and growing up, both physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I will quote verbatim from Wikipedia:  “Nellie Harper Lee (April 28, 1926) the youngest of five children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch, was raised in Monroeville, Alabama. Her first name, was her grandmother’s name spelled backwards. Her mother was a homemaker; her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, practiced law and served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938. Before A.C. Lee became a title lawyer, he once defended two black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Both clients, a father and son, were hanged.” As a child, Lee was a tomboy, a precocious reader, and best friends with her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote (In Cold Blood).” In Lee’s fabulous novel, A. C. Lee becomes Atticus Finch, Truman Capote turns into the fictional Dill Harris, and Harper Lee herself becomes Scout, both a bookworm, and a tomboy. Add on one brother named Jem, and a gem of a housekeeper Calpurnia, and the table is set for one of the best seven-course reading experiences of all time. 4 The book was written in 1960, and it was instantly successful. So much so, that a movie was almost immediately demanded by the reading public. That motion-picture, of the same name, was released in 1962. There was plenty of potential for disaster. Movies from books do have a very good track-record, all in all. Especially those made from literary masterpieces. This movie would prove to be an exception. Much like other well-written books and screenplays, To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the depression ravaged days of the 1930’s, but it’s really about the civil-rights movement of the fifties and later on, the sixties. Directed by Robert Mulligan with a screenplay by Horton Foote, and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, Frank Overton as the Sheriff, Estelle Evans as Calpurnia, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, Mary Badham as Scout, and Phillip Alford as Jem, and well-known screen heavy James Anderson as Bob Ewell, in his all-time nastiest role. The incomparable William Windom plays the Prosecutor. Robert Duvall even puts in an appearance in his first ever turn in front of the movie camera, as Boo Radley. Filmed in beautiful black and white, it could not be more rich, atmospheric, and textured. 5 Everyone is perfect in their roles, and the movie in its entirety is nearly  flawless and seamless. Gregory Peck was at his prime in 1962, and the three kids are about as cute as they come. Perfection at the moment it was made, it suffers not a bit fifty-three years later, in it’s portrayal of the serious issues of bigotry, racial injustice, and rape (both of women, and the judicial system). Again, according to Wikipedia: “The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor. The narrator’s father, Atticus Finch, has served as a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers. One critic explains the novel’s impact by writing, “In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.”  In one particularly memorable courtroom scene, the black townspeople stand at attention in the balcony (the only place they are allowed to sit) as Atticus leaves the courtroom for the day. His children, Jem and Scout, fidget on the floor. An elderly black gentleman nudges them to their feet, saying . . . “Stand up children–your Father’s passing.” In another scene at the jailhouse door, Atticus holds off a lynch-mob, with the help of Scout, who introduces a large dose of humanity into the crowd. I saw it as a kid in a Detroit theater. I doubt there was a dry eye, or an un-lumped throat in the house at the end of that encounter. I know mine wasn’t. In all, both the novel and the resulting motion-picture, can be considered to be an astonishing phenomenon. In 2006, British librarians ranked the book slightly ahead of The Bible, as one “every adult should read before they die.” Since 1990, a play based on the novel has been performed annually in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Amazing success, considering the fact that it is, to this date, Harper Lee’s only published work. I guess if you’re only going to hit only one, it might as well be out of the ballpark. Truman Capote had been long rumored to have had at least something of a hand in the writing of the novel–but if it’s true, that’s okay–Harper Lee helped him out with his career apex true crime novel, In Cold Blood. One good turn deserves another, as they say. In the end, justice prevails–in an odd sort of a way. Not justice of the law-book kind, but biblical justice. And Scout and Jem do a whole lot of maturing and putting themselves firmly on the road to adulthood. And Boo Radley comes out–right along with one of the silver-screens best–Robert Duvall . . . all at the same time. 6 You might want to give it a look. I can promise you it will get under your skin–if you’re seeing it for the first time, or the tenth. Thanks for reading. Next up–what is arguably the most important motion-picture ever made . . . Schindler’s List.  Thanks for reading. Until next time–Goodnight.    Dumb Joke of the Day: “I’m really broke,” say one guy. “How broke are you,” the other guy replies. “Well, I asked my Bank Manager to check my balance . . . so he pushed me.” 7