To Kill A Mockingbird (USA, 1962)
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Starring Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Philip Alford, Robert Duvall
IMDb Top 250: #71 (27/10/13)
Films about racial prejudice often date very badly. There's no denying the historical significance of something like In The Heat of the Night, but the style in which such a film conveys its message now seems heavy-handed, even while its message remains important. Many films about racial conflict are so much a product of their time that they quickly become historical caricatures. This is true right back to the days of D. W. Griffith, though with Intolerance he could just have been trying too hard.
Gone With The Wind and A Place in the Sun. The common observation about these two was that neither film had enough of a story to warrant their respective running times: the ideas were either improperly executed or not that nuanced in the first place. Whether through the superior nature of its source, Mulligan's solid approach or the influence of producer Alan J. Pakula (All The President's Men), To Kill A Mockingbird does not suffer the same fate.
A Man For All Seasons. Robert Bolt's original play was written two years before this film came out, and both stories revolve around a tragic hero. Both Atticus and Sir Thomas More are idealists struggling in a world which has abandoned said ideals for the sake of short-term satisfaction, be it power, wealth, status or revenge. The courtroom scene in To Kill A Mockingbird wins out, however, being less stagey and needlessly histrionic than Fred Zinnemann's film. Mulligan uses similar techniques to The Paradine Case (which also starred Peck), using low angles to give the characters more authority over proceedings.
Click here and here for a couple of Letters of Note concerning Harper Lee and her wonderful book.
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