The movie ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is based on a novel of the same name written by American author Harper Lee. The novel is one of the most celebrated books of its time. It was written in the year 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. It was also made into a movie the next year i.e. 1962. That is the only book ever written by Harper Lee and is still counted among the best books ever written. The film is more than decent adaptation of the novel. It is directed by Robert Mulligan and stars Gregory Peck in the lead role of Atticus Finch who is the protagonist of the movie. Mary Badham, who played Scout, was nominated for the Academy Award for best supporting actress making her the youngest actor ever to be nominated for an Academy Award at that time.
The plot of the movie is completely based on the novel. The movie is set in the 1930s in a fictional town by the name of Maycomb in the state of Alabama. The inhabitants of the town are quite colorful and we get to see an array of characters. Jean Louise Finch who is nicknamed Scout is a six-year-old girl. Her older brother is Jeremy Atticus Finch and is often called as Jem. They live along with their widowed father Atticus Finch who is a lawyer and goes to work in his office at downtown. The kids stay at home and spend their time playing. The kids are taken care by their black caretaker Calpurnia. The kids are quite close to her. The plot primarily focuses on these three main characters, i.e. Scout, Jem, and their father Atticus.
The kids meet Dill Harris who is their neighbour’s son. They have fun playing together. The kids take quite a bit of interest in the secluded house where Boo (the name by which the kids call him) Radley leaves. It seems that Boo hasn’t left his home in years. Dill starts telling scary stuff about him. He tells Scout and Jem that Bob is mentally disabled and thus his father keeps him chained to the bed and beats him. He is around six feet tall and has yellow, rotten teeth. He catches squirrels and small birds and eats them.
Atticus Finch, the father of the kids, is a lawyer. He is quite an honest man who believes in equal justice for all. He is also quite kind-hearted and tries his best to help people get justice even if they don’t have any money to pay. This is quite evident from the fact when Scout sees her father accepting nuts as a payment for his services from a man named Mr. Cunnigham who didn’t have any money to pay. Atticus is also quite liberal in his attitude towards his kids. He lets them use his first name to address him. Though their dad is quite upright morally, the kids come to know of the horrors plaguing their social system through his work. They learn the harsh effects of racism. Through these experiences they learn and mature.
There easy going life is dealt a severe blow when the Town Judge asks Atticus to defend Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a white girl named Mayella. Everything would have been normal but the problem is that Tom is a black man and any black man even accused of raping a white girl was not going to be taken lightly. But without thinking about what bystanders might say Atticus accepts the case. This makes everyone hostile towards him. But the repercussions of his decision doesn’t stop there. It affects his family too. The kids start getting bullied in the school, and the children start calling their dad names. When a kid calls Atticus a ‘ni***r lover’, Scout gets really angry and gets into a fight. But Atticus keeps a calm head and tells them that the reason he took the case was because he believes that everyone has the right to a fair trial. If he does not take the case of Tom then no one will and thus he will not get any justice that he deserves.
But people in the town doesn’t like Atticus’s involvement in the case and when Atticus is at the local prison where Tom is staying a mob shows up to kill Tom at any cost. Things might have become worse if Scout, her brother Jem and their friend Dill would not have decided to visit their father. Once there, Scout recognises Mr. Cunnigham in the crowd. Unaware of the purpose of the mob she tells him to say hello to his son who studies at the same school as her. Mr. Cunningham feels guilty and embarrassed and he along with the mob leaves the prison. Thus, unknowingly Scout ends up saving both her father and Tom.
Then we are treated to a series of courtroom scenes where we see Atticus try his best to present the facts to the case in front of the jury. These scenes are some of the most celebrated scenes of the movie. Here we get to understand what really happened at the Ewell household. What Mayella Ewell and her father Bob Ewell claims is that Tom raped Mayella and then beat her. But Tom presents a different version of the story. He says that he was asked by Mayella to help her with some work involving the making of a chifforobe. Once he was there, she started forcing herself on him despite him trying to shake her off. While this was going on Mayella’s father Bob Ewell arrives on the scene and sees her daughter trying to force herself on Tom . He gets angry and abuses his daughter. Tom gets really afraid and flees from the scene. Before leaving he sees Bib abusing and beating his daughter.
The plausibility of Tom’s version if the story is confirmed by Atticus by presenting certain facts about the case. One of the main facts was that Mayella seems to have been beaten by someone who uses their left hand extensively. But Atticus points out that Tom’s left hand is crippled. He also shows that Bob Ewell is left-handed and thus there is no doubt that he was the one who assaulted Mayella and not Tom. He also lets the jury know that a doctor has not examined Mayella for any signs of rape. He urges the jury to base their decision just facts and try to put their prejudice aside. But the all-white jury doesn’t budge even after compelling evidence provided by Atticus and end up declaring that Tom is guilty of raping Mayella. This was a severe blow to Atticus who had really thought that he had a chance to get Tom the justice he deserves. After the judgement, all white people get up and leave the courtroom but the blacks stay, and when Atticus started leaving the courtroom they stood up in respect to show him that they appreciate what he had done for them.
One of the main reasons for Atticus’s defeat was Tom’s sympathy towards Mayella. He told the jury that he felt sorry for her. This thing was exploited by the prosecutor who told the jury that he is trying to be a black man feeling sorry for a white woman. This kind of added to the already orthodox decision that the all-white jury had made. After the proceedings at the court finish Atticus goes home. But his life was only going to get harder. When he reached home he found Sheriff Tate, who informs Atticus that Tom Robinson was dead. While he was being escorted, Tom broke free and began to run. The police officer decided to shoot to injure him. But he ended up killing Tom. Sheriff Tate adds that Tom was behaving like a crazy man. After hearing the news of Tom’s death Atticus feels that it is his responsibility as Tom’s lawyer to let his wife know of his demise. He along with his son Jem goes to Tom’s house. There he breaks the news of her husband’s death. Outside Tom’s house, Bob Ewell asks Atticus to come out. Bob then spits on Atticus’s face. Atticus remains calm and wipes his face with his handkerchief. He then goes to his car and heads home.
Time flies by, and Autumn arrives. It’s Halloween time, and Scout and Jem’s school is holding a Halloween pageant at night. Scout dresses herself as a hard-shelled ham which was one of the products of her county. During the pageant Scout’s shoe and her dress is misplaced and thus she has to walk back home along with her brother wearing her ham costume. The costume makes it hard for her to walk and her vision is sort of impaired in the costume. Suddenly, a man starts chasing them. They start running Scout has difficulty in fleeing. She sees that Jem is knocked unconscious but when the man tries to attack Scout with his knife the costume protects her. Then another unidentified man comes to their rescue. Before running off Scout sees the second man carrying Jem to their house.
Scout runs to her home. There she is received by her dad who was really concerned about her. Scout sees that her brother is lying unconscious on the bed and a doctor his checking on him. She also sees an unknown man standing near Jem. Atticus introduces the stranger to her daughter as Arthur Radley. This was the same Arthur Radley whom they used to call Boo. Turns out that the second unidentified man who saves Scout and Jem was Arthur himself and the man who attacked them was none other than Bob Ewell who was father of Mayella Ewell and had accused Tom of raping his daughter. To get revenge on Atticus he decided to attack his kids but in the nick of time Arthur arrived and saved the kids.
Atticus assumes that it was Jem who killed Bob in self-defense. But Sheriff Tate tells that it was not Jem who killed Bob rather it was Arthur who killed him to save the kids. But then the Sheriff adds that it will be unwise to pull Arthur into the limelight and declare him as a Hero who saved the kids. So, he starts reciting an entirely different set of events which ends with Bob Ewell falling on his own knife and dying thus keeping Arthur completely away from the events. He says that let the dead bury the dead. This is where the film ends.
Since the movie is very much driven by the characters, solid performances were required to make the movie relatable and entertaining. And the actors in the film do more than just playing their parts. They complete the film with their incredible performances. Gregory Peck is outstanding in his role as Atticus Finch. He is a method actor and we can clearly see him embody the character as he nails the southern accent. His courtroom scenes were really great and are still counted as one of his best works. Gregory even got the Academy Award for the best actor for his role. Robert Duvall portrays the character of Arthur Radley. It was his first big screen debut. Though brief he asserts his presence on the screen for whatever little time he is in a scene. The other actors were quite good at their job too, especially the child actors. Mary Badham as mentioned before got nominated for the Academy Award for the best supporting actress. The actor who portrays Tom Robinson is Brock Peters. His emotional courtroom scene is quite hard-hitting as he nails the character of a man who is doomed from the beginning.
The ending of the novel draws a comparison between Arthur Radley and Tom Robinson both of whom had been shunned by the society. The movie ends on this note too. Arthur Radley is an eccentric individual who has become a recluse and has withdrawn himself from the society but Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill brings him back to the society. Sheriff Tate thinks that it won’t be a good idea to bring Arthur in front of public eyes as he is a recluse rather he tells that he will tell a different series of events where Bob ends up falling on his own knife and dying. He says that let the dead bury the dead. This version of events might give the idea of divine justice where Bob gets punished for committing the sin. The sin to kill a Mockingbird. Here Tom Robinson represeants Mockingbird.
To Kill a Mockingbird is almost a perfect film. The only issue I have with the film is that I found black characters weren’t given many dialogues. For example, when Atticus goes to Tom’s house to break the news of her husband’s death she doesn’t say anything. I guess this might be because the director is trying to show oppression of the blacks. But I would have liked to see a bit more dialogues delivered by them. I feel the film kind of shifts the tone from black oppression to the greatness of a white liberal. Personally, I would have liked it to be a bit more even toned.
Anyway, all said and done, the film deserves all the attention it got. It is one of those films that leaves you with feeling good about this world we live in. If you are into books, I would strongly suggest that you should read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ before watching the film. It will be well worth your time.