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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Hate Crimes > Literature > To Kill A Mockingbird - Legacy Series

To Kill A Mockingbird – Legacy Series


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: A-     Film: A-



How powerful can a quiet drama be?  If it is Robert Mulligan’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), it is one of the most powerful dramas in cinema history.  Forerunning the last Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking by a few years, it was a sign of things to come.  Sadly, many saw the film as a permanent move forward in exposing racism and injustice in society, one that could not be reversed.  However, that would not be the case like it should have been and is maybe the only aspect of the film not covered in the extremely thorough Legacy Series DVD special edition set.


In his brilliant performance as Atticus Finch, Gregory Peck draws on dignity, wisdom, cleverness, education, responsibility and a true sense of justice to try to protect and defend an indigent African American man (the late, great Brock Peters) against what is essentially a kangaroo court lynching.  He has three children who figure very prominently in his life and definitely in the narrative.  Against his baser instincts, he keeps turning the other cheek to set an example of passive resistance to his children against the hate that surrounds them.  Unfortunately, that became part of Liberal Mythology (and some non-radical Christian thought) that was overused to the point that a backlash Conservatism was able to undermine.  Though often useful, it is impossible to use this in all cases, though to stop radical politics and protest, was sold as such.  Finch does use it throughout and properly.


It is then with some reservation and concern that as deserving as it may be, Finch is named the American Film Institute’s #1 hero.  Yes, he is a hero for the times, and the cycle of courtroom dramas that began with Norman Jewison’s …and justice for all (1979) with Al Pacino showing that times had changed and the Finch approach could no longer work when the system is so corrupt.  That Hollywood has had such a series of films where justice can always be claimed from the courtroom has a sense of falseness of its own that real life cases have proved so is its own myth.  However, it is better than mob rule, populist-fueled fascism, political correctness or theocratically-determined justice and simply talking the law into one’s own hands.


When watching the film, one is reminded of everything from the silent cinema, to the more serious Westerns, to the legacy of poisonously racist cinema of D.W. Griffith, to its horrific return of the repressed in Night Of The Hunter, to the mature black and white cinema Hollywood was producing at the time before color eclipsed that great era, to the original film Noir era (1941 – 1958) and of a maturing of a cycle of filmmaking aimed to children (B-movies, Our Gang/The Little Rascals, movie serials).  In all this, it is a major turning point in world film in ways it is not often recognized as being.  To Kill A Mockingbird has its own quiet horrors, one that is ongoing and keeps returning, as it will continue to until justice is served.


The film also has an amazing cast offering Robert Duvall, Frank Overton, Rosemary Murphy, Alice Ghostley, Ruth White, William Windom and Richard Hale some of their greatest screen moments, this from actors with amazing track records.  Peck is so great that their work is often forgotten.  If anything, it should give viewers and serious film fans (and especially filmmakers) yet another reason to appreciate this film for the classic it is.


The 1.85 X 1 black and white image is a bit grainy, but looks fine otherwise, anamorphically enhanced, with fine gray scale, depth and detail.  Cinematographer Russell Harlan had shot so many Westerns and dramas set in the South, that he could not miss in making this so authentic, though special mention should go to two of the greatest production designers of all time: Henry Bumstead and Alexander Golitzen.  Universal has come up with a fine print here and it is transferred very well.


The sound has been remixed here for 5.1 in Dolby Digital and DTS, with the DTS a bit better.  When I told people this film was in DTS, many went into shock and could not imagine either why or what would be remixed.  Most were not familiar with the great score by Elmer Bernstein, more influential than many realize, but the restored audio deserves such treatment.  However, other films of the time have come out in DTS one way or the other.  Theatrical reissues of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil (1958) were in DTS, also Universal Pictures like this one.  Sony did DTS editions of From Here To Eternity, Bridge On The River Kwai (import DVD reviewed elsewhere on this site) and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964, only two years after this film), while Disney did their 1940 Fantasia that way on DVD.  The fact of the matter is that DTS is about clarity and fidelity for films form any era, and it serves this film by adding a warmer, more realistic and naturalistic-sounding presentation of the material.  This also serves to eliminate the distance between today and an ugly event of the past, which echoes an ugly legacy of racism as relevant today as ever.


Extras on DVD 1 include Peck accepting the Academy Award for Best Actor for the film, another clip with peck getting the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, a farewell to Peck from the Academy as hosted by his daughter Cecilia, Actress Mary Badham on her work with Peck in the film decades later, production notes, the original theatrical trailer and an outstanding audio commentary by director Mulligan and producer, future ace director (the late, great) Alan J. Pakula for the entire film that is one of the best for a classic film you will ever hear.  DVD 2 adds a 95 minutes-long Conversation With Gregory Peck that covers the personal and professional life of Mr. Peck very thoroughly and bluntly, plus Fearful Symmetry, a 1998 documentary (letterboxed 1.78 X 1 that run 90 minutes in itself) on the making of the film.  The high quality, hardbound foldout case with Digipaks also has a pocket inside that holds an envelope.  Inside, high quality paperboards offer 11 miniature reproductions of worldwide poster art for the film and a 12th card with a message from Harper Lee herself.  That is a great final touch to one of the best special editions on the market to date.  To Kill A Mockingbird deserves this Legacy Series edition because it is offers one of the most important legacies in cinema history.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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