Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird lives up to the standards set by the source material, thanks in part to Robert Mulligan's direction and Gregory Peck's outstanding performance of Atticus Finch. Set in the South during the earlier half of the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of two children, Scout (Mary Badham) and her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford), as they come to see the darker side of humanity as their father, Atticus (Gregory Peck), defends a black man on trial for the rape of a white woman. It’s a tale of innocence lost, as we’re introduced to Scout and Jem when their lives are simple; playing with their summer friend Dill (John Megna) and trying to stay out of trouble is about as complex as things get.
In the earlier part of the story, Scout and Jem seem more or less oblivious to racism or the real danger people can pose. That may be due to living in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, or perhaps because the closest thing they have to a mother figure is their cook, Calpurnia (Estelle Evans), who happens to be black. Their father Atticus is an open-minded man who answers his children's’ questions honestly and who seems to have no shortage of patience or wisdom. Gregory Peck does a beautiful job of capturing Atticus’ strength of character and morality without coming off as unrealistic or overly idealistic. He makes us want to be like Atticus, and to believe that men like him really do exist in the world.
While Tom Robinson’s trial serves to expose Jem and Scout to the racism that exists in their community, the siblings are also curious about their strange neighbor, Arthur Radley (Robert Duvall), known to the neighborhood as “Boo,” and he is mutually curious about them. The character gives us our first feature-film look at Robert Duvall, who doesn’t appear much in this movie, but plays the part of the shy neighbor perfectly.
Fans of the book will likely find alterations and omissions in the film, which is to be expected with any adaptation of a novel. However, Robert Mulligan’s direction (based on Horton Foote’s screenplay) does a fantastic job of condensing the story without stripping it of the core message. Badham and Alford capture the innocence of Scout and Jem beautifully, while Peck manages to encapsulate everything that’s strong and good about Atticus in his performance. The heart of Lee’s story exists in this movie, and the film holds up well both on its own and as an adaptation. That said, to those who love the movie but have never read the book, I highly recommend digging up a copy of Lee’s novel, as the characters are further developed in that denser version of the story.
To Kill a Mockingbird shows us a snippet of the lives of two siblings who mature from the days of being afraid of the (harmless) town bogeyman to glimpsing and eventually experiencing a very real kind of danger. It’s a classic story as much as it is a classic film, and one well worth adding to your collection.
The Legacy Series DVD set is one of my favorite DVDs, due as much to the packaging as to the actual film. Released in 2005, the Legacy series was packaged in a thick cardboard fold-out case, which did make it a little bulky, but gave it a book-ish look which is fitting to the film. Plus, it came with a set of glossy cards featuring various versions of the film’s posters. I love it, and I’m not usually one to be enticed by shiny packaging. I make an exception for the Legacy Series set, as it really was nicely put together. It should be said that this 50th Anniversary Blu-ray falls short in that respect. The standard Blu-ray casing, which holds both discs, is a bit plain, and the exposed clear-blue plastic at the top of the front detracts from the image of Gregory Peck looking pensive. At least it'll save on space, but I don't think I'll be able to part with my Legacy set, which may turn out to be for display purposes only now that I've upgraded to Blu-ray.
It’s also worth mentioning, for those who already own the Legacy Series, that much of the bonus content on the Blu-ray is recycled from that previous set, with the exception of the “100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics” featurette. This may be a feature Universal is putting on other Blu-rays, as the video isn’t directly related to Mockingbird. It is extremely interesting, though, for those who are curious to see how they’re able to clean up old films. The Blu-ray also includes a U-Control feature, which offers picture-in-picture videos that play throughout the film and add some insight into relevant scenes. It’s almost like an additional commentary, except the videos pop up here and there rather than running continuously throughout the film. There’s also a pocket Blu feature, which is an app that offers some interactive features for mobile device users. The set also includes the DVD and a digital copy.
Those who love To Kill a Mockingbird should be pleased with the amount of bonus content that comes with the film. In addition to a commentary featuring director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula, there are a number of featurettes that explore the movie and the history of the film. This includes two fascinating feature-length documentaries. "Fearful Symmetry" looks at the making of the film, and “A Conversation with Gregory Peck” focuses entirely on the actor. Other features include "Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance Speech," "American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award," "Excerpt From the Academy Tribute to Gregory Peck," and "Scout Remembers," which has actress Mary Badham talking about working with Gregory Peck.
As an upgrade from the Legacy Series to Blu-ray, a couple of additional features, the digital copy, and the bump up to Blu-ray quality isn’t a huge improvement, but for those purchasing the film for the first time, the set offers a virtual buffet of bonus content, as well as a digitally remastered version of the film.