To Kill a Mockingbird

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film’s young protagonists, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Mary Badham) and her brother Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch (Phillip Alford), live in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1930s. The story covers three years, during which Scout and Jem undergo changes in their lives. They begin as innocent children, who spend their days happily playing games with each other and spying on Arthur “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall), who has not been seen for many years by anybody as a result of never leaving his house and about whom many rumors circulate. Their widowed father, Atticus (Gregory Peck), is a town lawyer and has a strong belief that all people are to be treated fairly, to turn the other cheek, and to stand for what you believe. He also allows his children to call him by his first name. Early in the film, the children see their father accept hickory nuts, and other produce, from Mr. Cunningham (Crahan Denton) for legal work because the client has no money. Through their father’s work as a lawyer, Scout and Jem begin to learn of the racism and evil in their town, aggravated by poverty; they mature quickly as they are exposed to it.

The local judge (Paul Fix) appoints Atticus to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), against an accusation of rape of a white teenaged girl, Mayella Ewell. Atticus accepts the case. Jem and Scout experience schoolyard taunts for their father’s decision. Later, a lynch mob, led by Mr. Cunningham, tries to lynch Robinson over Atticus’ objections. Scout, Jem and their friend, Dill, interrupt the confrontation. Scout, unaware of the mob’s purpose, recognizes Cunningham as the man who paid her father in hickory nuts and tells him to say hello to his son, who is her schoolmate. Cunningham becomes embarrassed and the mob disperses.

At the trial, it is undisputed that Tom came to Mayella’s home at her request to assist with the chopping up of a chifforobe, and that Mayella showed signs of having been beaten around that time. Among Atticus’ chief arguments, he points out that Tom is crippled in his left arm, and that the supposed rapist would have had to make extensive use of his left hand in assaulting Mayella before raping her. At the same time Atticus demonstrates that Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell, is left handed, implying that he – rather than Tom – was the one who beat Mayella. Atticus also states that the girl had not even been examined by a doctor to check for signs of rape after the supposed assault. In his closing argument Atticus asks the all white, male jury to cast aside their prejudices and instead focus on Tom’s obvious innocence. In taking the stand in his own defense, Tom denies he attacked Mayella, but states she kissed him. He testifies he voluntarily assisted Mayella because “I felt sorry for her because . . . “. He didn’t finish the sentence but the prosecutor hammered home the point that he was a black man feeling sorry for a white woman. In a town where whites are viewed as superior to blacks, Tom’s sympathy for Mayella dooms his case, and he’s found guilty.

Atticus arrives home to discover from the sheriff (Frank Overton) that Tom has been killed by a deputy during his transfer to prison. The sheriff states that according to this deputy, Tom was trying to escape. The deputy reported that Tom ran like a “crazy” man before he was shot. Atticus and Jem go to the Robinson family home to advise them of Tom’s death. Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, appears and spits in Atticus’ face while Jem waits in the car. Atticus wipes his face and leaves.

Autumn arrives and Scout and Jem attend a nighttime Halloween pageant at their school. Scout wears a large hard-shelled ham costume, portraying one of Maycomb county’s products. At some point during the pageant, Scout’s dress and shoes are misplaced. She’s forced to walk home without shoes and wearing her ham costume. While cutting through the woods, Scout and Jem are attacked by an unidentified man who has been following them. Scout’s costume, like an awkward suit of armor, protects her from the attack but restricts her movement and severely restricts her vision. Their attacker is thwarted and overcome by another unidentified man. Jem is knocked unconscious and Scout escapes unharmed in a brief but violent struggle. Scout escapes her costume in time to see a man carrying Jem to their home and entering. Scout follows and once inside runs into the arms of a concerned Atticus. Doc Reynolds comes over and treats the broken arm of an unconscious Jem.

When Sheriff Tate asks Scout what happened, she notices a man standing silently behind the bedroom door in the corner of Jem’s room. Atticus introduces Scout to Mr Arthur Radley; he is the person who came to their aid against Ewell in the woods. Boo is also the man who carried Jem home. The sheriff reports Bob Ewell was discovered dead at the scene of the attack with a knife in his ribs. Atticus assumes Jem killed Ewell in self-defense. Sheriff Tate, however, believes that Boo killed Ewell in defense of the children and tells Atticus that to drag the shy and reserved Boo into the spotlight for his heroism would be “a sin.” To protect Boo, Sheriff Tate suggests that Ewell “fell on his knife.” Scout draws a startlingly precocious analogy to an earlier lesson from the film (hence its title) when she likens any public outing of Boo to the killing of a mockingbird. The film ends with Scout considering events from Boo’s point of view, and Atticus watching over the unconscious Jem.


This morning, I was talking to someone about classic films and To Kill a Mockingbird came up. Both of us realized it had been quite some since we last watched. Speaking for myself, and I’m sure many of you, it was way back in high school after we had to read the book for class. I wonder how my opinion has changed in these years since, especially with the current political and racial climate.

What is this about?

Southern comforts abound in this big-screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel as lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, in an Oscar-winning role) defends an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against rape charges but ends up in a maelstrom of hate and prejudice. Meanwhile, with help from a friend (John Megna), Finch’s children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), set their sights on making contact with a reclusive neighbor (Robert Duvall).

What did I like?

Just a Peck. I am not inherently familiar with Gregory Peck’s body of work. Before this, I had only seen him in How the West was Won and Roman Holiday, hardly enough to judge the man’s career. Watching him command the screen when he would show up, though, was enough to see why he was and still is such a respected actor. The highlight, though, was his brilliant recital of his lines in the courtroom. That speech is a very powerful moment in the book and Peck brought every bit of emotion he could to the forefont as he delivered a powerful defense that left the courtroom silent.

Respect. As we all know, when books are made into movies, many things are added, subtracted, and changed. I am glad, though, that the scene where all the African-Americans, who were forced to sit in the balcony area because of the time period, stood up as a sign of respect as Atticus Finch was leaving. It shows that, while this was a very hard time in race relations, they respect any who try to help. I doubt that if the color tables were turned, that would have been the case, sadly.

Chifforobe. When I was growing up and would make the summer trip to visit my grandmother, she would always yell to go get her purse out of the chifforobe. To this day, the only place I hear the word chifforboe is in the backwoods of Mississippi and the one episode of Family Guy where Brian tries is dating this older woman. The only reason I even know what thing is was this movie. Watching today made me remember that, but I’m sure I’ll forget in about an hour or so.

What didn’t I like?

Today’s evidence. This has always bothered me, even when I read it in the book. All the evidence leads to Tom being innocent, but because of Mayellen Ewell having a breakdown in court and the race issue, Tom is convicted. Not even Atticus’ eloquent words were enough to save him. I’m sitting here thinking, this should not have been this way, and then I look at some of the high profile cases of the past few years, and they turn out the same way. How else is George Zimmerman free, for instance? I’m all for innocent until proven guilty, but you shouldn’t be guilty even if you’re proven innocent!

Boo who? The subplot involving Boo Radley, from what I remember, was much more of a factor in the book. Here it is mentioned and forgotten until the end. Personally, I think they could have spent less time showing Scout fighting and more time developing the Boo Radley angle, because as it is in the film, sort of just comes out of nowhere. The scenes where his dad is closing up that knothole in the tree doesn’t mean anything, either. Whoever it was that did the cutting for this film shouldn’t have cut so much out.

AFI voted Atticus Finch the #1 hero in film. This is over the likes of Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Tarzan, and even Superman! If you’ve never seen this picture, that may make no sense, but after you watch and see how Atticus defends a man who is surely destined for prison, no matter what he does, his family, and shows a great deal of respect and patience towards those less dignified and educated, you’ll see why he earned that spot. The film itself is a brilliant masterpiece that everyone should watch during their lifetime. I very highly recommend it!

5 out of 5 stars


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