To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Who’s in it? Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Philip Alford
What’s it about? The archetypal courtroom drama, To Kill a Mocking Bird immortalised the character of Atticus Finch (embodied superbly by Gregory Peck) as a bastion of moral integrity, putting his reputation on the line to defend an innocent black man from prejudice in rural, depression-era America. Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the film faithfully recreates the subtle nuances and small town details of the book but it is Peck’s Oscar winning performance which makes this adaptation extraordinary, making the character of Atticus (voted by the American Film Institute the greatest movie hero of the 20th century) warm and relatable, giving the sense that, as Harper Lee herself said of the actor, “Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself.”
Memorable moments? The courtroom drama genre is synonymous with the figure of Peck as Finch in full flow, an image that has virtually become an icon for virtue.
Look who’s talking: ‘Harper Lee’s child’s-eye view of southern bigotry gains something in its translation to the screen by Robert Mulligan, who knows exactly where to place the camera to catch a child’s subjective experience.’ – Chicago Reader
Like that? Try this: 12 Angry Men (1957), shot almost exclusively in one room, also centres around the integrity of one man (Henry Fonda) who must convince eleven other white jurors of the innocence of the accused. Excruciating but compelling throughout and required viewing for human drama fans.
Trivia Pursuit: Gregory Peck was quoted in the intro to the 1962 edition of the novel as saying: “I think perhaps the great appeal of the novel is that it reminds readers everywhere of a person or a town they have known. It is to me a universal story – moving, passionate and told with great humour and tenderness.”