The 1962 classic film To Kill a Mockingbird is now available on Blu-ray. The film is based on the 1960 novel by Harper Lee, and stars Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, a lawyer who takes on the case of a black man accused of raping a young white woman. The story is told from the point of view of Finch’s young daughter Scout (Mary Badham), who narrates the story looking back on the events as an adult. To Kill a Mockingbird is more of a coming of age story than a courtroom drama. The film fairly convincingly looks at some of humanity’s triumphs and failures through the eyes of a child.
Set in the fictional small town of Maycomb, Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of Scout, her brother Jem (Phillip Alford), and their friend Dill (John Megna). The story begins in the summer of 1932 when Scout and Jem first meet Dill who is visiting his aunt for the summer.
Scout and Jem’s mother is dead and they are in the care of their housekeeper Calpurnia (Estelle Evans). The children climb trees, play hide & seek, and tell stories about their neighbors, most notably Boo Radley (Robert Duvall). None of them have ever seen Boo, and Jem tells his sister that Boo is about six and half feet tall and eats raw squirrels and cats. It’s all fairly typical childhood foolishness that sets the atmosphere of lazy summer days in a small town.
The children are oblivious to the undercurrent of racism that surrounds them. However they are not completely unaware of adult worries. It is the depression era and they are more than aware of poverty. At one point Scout asks her dad if they are poor, and he replies they are, but not as poor as the farmer who pays Finch in vegetables in exchange for legal services. When Finch takes on the defense of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), Scout gets an up-close look at bigotry. Finch’s decision is not popular, but he knows it’s the right thing to do. Scout at first questions his decision, wondering how something could be right when everyone is so against it. It is a quintessential lesson of childhood to learn to choose to do what’s right even if it’s not popular. It’s Scout’s eventual understanding of this concept that is the heart of this story.
To Kill a Mockingbird is ultimately about a loss of innocence. Scout learns that the world is not very pretty, that good people do bad things, and that good people are punished unfairly sometimes. Scout’s story is timeless. Her growing sense of the world around her is something we can all relate to. If there is any weakness in this movie is that it is not clearly focused.
While it is Scout’s story, the movie does not belong entirely to her. The film is about her, but it is also about Finch and the trial of Tom Robinson. The first half of the movie is a character study of Scout and her relationship with her family, and the second half is about the trial. It feels a little like nothing happens during the first half of the movie because the story shifts so abruptly. It suddenly feels like the movie was supposed to be about this trial all along. So is the movie about Scout and her growing understanding of the world, or is it a movie about the trial of Tom Robinson.
I would say the story is more about Scout. She is the one who must learn something and go through change. There is no ambiguity in the character of Atticus Finch of the trial of Tom Robinson. Atticus Finch is an unwavering force of good standing up to do the right thing. That’s how his daughter sees him, and she has no reason to think otherwise. Neither do we. There is no real mystery to Tom Robinson’s trial. We know he didn’t do it, because the story is not about whether he is guilty or innocent. That part of the story is about racial injustice. It’s a blatant look at what prejudice can lead to. It’s hard lesson for Scout to learn, but in the end she’s the one who takes something away from it, and it is her who is changed.
The To Kill a Mockingbird 50th anniversary edition on Blu-ray is presented in 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer 1.85:1 ratio. The picture is excellent. The picture is crisp and clear. The black levels are deep, with distinctive lighter shades, which are well defined. Even the darker shadowy and nighttime scenes finely detailed and easy to see. The sound is presented in a lossless DTS-HD 5 5.1 transfer.
The use of surrounds is minimal. The film was released long before surround systems and the soundtrack reflects this. What comes through the strongest is Elmer Bernstein’s fine score. Voices are well mixed and the dialogue is clear.
The special features are ported over from the previous two-disc DVD release and are presented in standard definition. There are two great feature length documentaries. One focuses on the film itself and the other centers on Gregory Peck. There is also a feature commentary with director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula. Several featurettes and Peck’s Best Actor Academy Award acceptance speech round out the special features.