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To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

tomatometer

67

Average Rating: 6.8/10
Critic Reviews: 6
Fresh: 4 | Rotten: 2

No consensus yet.

audience

93

liked it
Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 176,008

My Rating

Movie Info

Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel was translated to film in 1962 by Horton Foote and the producer/director team of Robert Mulligan and Alan J. Pakula. Set a small Alabama town in the 1930s, the story focuses on scrupulously honest, highly respected lawyer Atticus Finch, magnificently embodied by Gregory Peck. Finch puts his career on the line when he agrees to represent Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man accused of rape. The trial and the events surrounding it are

Unrated,

Drama, Classics

Horton Foote

Apr 28, 1998

Universal International Pictur

Watch It Now

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All Critics (51) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (46) | Rotten (3) | DVD (28)

To Kill a Mockingbird is a time capsule, preserving hopes and sentiments from a kinder, gentler, more naive America.

July 25, 2011 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times | Comments (36)
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Harper Lee's child's-eye view of southern bigotry gains something in its translation to the screen by Robert Mulligan, who knows exactly where to place the camera to catch a child's subjective experience.

July 25, 2011 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This one is always just off the boil.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out | Comments (23)
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Minor shortcomings in a rewarding film.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times | Comment (1)
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Universally recognized as a classic, and the label is well deserved.

June 20, 2002 Full Review Source: ReelViews
ReelViews
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Harper Lee's highly regarded first novel has been artfully and delicately translated to the screen.

February 13, 2001 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

I got so much more from this story as an adult, and it's a shame that my adolescent stubbornness kept me from the movie for so many years.

February 27, 2012 Full Review Source: 7M Pictures
7M Pictures

Because the story is related through young Scout and Jem, that childhood wonder and fear is never close behind.

February 11, 2012 Full Review Source: Scene-Stealers.com
Scene-Stealers.com

One of those rare instances when a movie perfectly captures the essence of its source material without compromising it in any way.

January 23, 2012 Full Review Source: Creative Loafing
Creative Loafing

One of Hollywood's finest achievements, To Kill A Mockingbird is truly timeless.

July 25, 2011 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

Since its release, this intelligent, atmospheric film has been warmly received by audiences responding not only to their own childhood, but also to the heroic image portrayed by Peck, a shining example of citizenship and affectionate fatherhood.

July 25, 2011 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

A terrific central performance by Gregory Peck makes for an outstanding big screen adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel.

July 25, 2011 Full Review Source: Cinema Sight
Cinema Sight

So much of the novel's reckless atmosphere is missing...

October 29, 2010 Full Review Source: LarsenOnFilm | Comments (10)
LarsenOnFilm

Gregory Peck is ideal casting as Atticus, for his Lincoln-like integrity and intelligence perfectly serve the role.

July 21, 2010 Full Review Source: Cinemania

Uneven film whose strong point is anti-racism.

July 6, 2010 Full Review Source: Classic Film and Television | Comment (1)
Classic Film and Television

To Kill a Mockingbird should make admirers of the novel weep many times over.

October 26, 2009 Full Review Source: Film and Felt
Film and Felt

With the Tom Robinson plot intertwining with Scout and Jem's education in the ugly flaws of a world they're only beginning to comprehend, today the film offers an extra accumulated layer of 'meaning.'

April 4, 2006 Full Review Source: DVDJournal.com
DVDJournal.com

A classic adaptation of an American classic. Storytelling doesn't get much better than this.

December 6, 2005 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

Regardless of its flaws, it occupies a specific place in American cinema; it's easy to enjoy and hard to forget.

September 30, 2005 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Above all, it's a film about listening to Dad.

September 30, 2005 Full Review Source: Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

Arguably one of the best dramatic films ever made, brought home with tons of great features, a sparkling new transfer, and a nifty fold-out case.

September 27, 2005 Full Review Source: DVD Clinic
DVD Clinic

Combining the best of Southern Gothic and coutroom drama traditions, this Oscar-winner is poignant as a classic coming-of-age tale and expose of the American legal system

August 21, 2005 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com
EmanuelLevy.Com

Superb on all counts. Great adaptation of the memorable novel.

October 16, 2004
Kansas City Kansan

Audience Reviews for To Kill A Mockingbird

Trivia: Scout and Jem's fanciful summer friend Dil was based on Truman Capote.
July 23, 2007
brooklynspo

Super Reviewer

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.

In contrast to these films, To Kill A Mockingbird has survived largely untarnished for 51 years, with neither changes in film technique nor wider social changes serving to blunt its powerful message or diminish its memorable characters. Through the steady hand of Robert Mulligan and the brilliance of Gregory Peck, Harper Lee's beloved novel is wonderfully realised in a film which is equally graceful, playful and heartbreaking. It remains, with 12 Angry Men, the standard to which all courtroom dramas aspire, and is a genuinely fine piece of drama in its own right.

I've already reviewed two other films based on Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, namely 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.

Horton Foote's screenplay is a great adaptation of Lee's novel, retaining all its unique imagery and rich language while ensuring the story is told in the most efficient and visually intriguing way possible. Just the right amount of time is taken in setting up the lives of our young protagonists: we see Atticus and his children Jem and Scout going about their daily lives, setting up the ease and ethics of their existence before the crime conspires to shatter their world. In short, each movement of the story is accorded as much time as is needed and nothing more.

Mulligan's directorial approach is similar in one way to that of Clint Eastwood. Both are at heart steady, nuts-and-bolts directors, interested in getting the job done quickly and telling their given story in the tidiest manner possible. The vast majority of their films tell their stories plainly and logically, and there is very little slack in either the visual or verbal narrative. You'd think that such an approach would dent the subtleties of Lee's book, but in fact it allows them to emerge freely. By being so reluctant to invade stylistically, Mulligan creates a naturalistic environment in which the young actors can produce their great performances.

That being said, Mulligan does benefit from assistance elsewhere in his crew. The film is shot by Russell Harlan, who also shot Blackboard Jungle and Witness for the Prosecution. Not only is he at home with the formal settings of the school and the courthouse, but his lighting choices add real tension to the story, particularly in the shadows and shot choices for Boo Radley's house. The film also benefits from a score by Elmer Bernstein, later known for his collaborations with John Landis. His light, cheery themes beautifully underscore the childlike innocence of the opening act; their absence is conspicuous during the later, darker scenes, which become more effective as a result.

As a result of these creative decisions, To Kill A Mockingbird is much more tense than you might at first presume. Considering its reputation as a lynchpin of American liberalism, you might regard it as a worthy but overly talky drama, full of big speeches about morality but not enough actual character development. But its moral backbone is only part of the film, since it is also the story of a child's innocence being invaded and ravaged by a dark world of prejudice.

One of the great assets of both the book and the film is presenting the action through the eyes of Jem and Scout. Through the early scenes of them playing with Dill, we get to see the world as it appears from their experience, including their own levels of prejudice regarding the children at school. The case that Atticus takes forces them to confront issues about race and injustice long before they are ready or their father would have wanted. We feel both Jem's pain and Scout's heartache at her revelation, in a way that we wouldn't if we saw the film through Atticus' eyes.

As for Atticus himself, it's not hard to see why the AFI ranked him as the greatest movie hero of all time in 2003. Atticus is the embodiment of all the values Western civilisation holds dear: justice, decency, freedom and equality before the law. He is unbending in his belief in the power of law and the rights of man, and unlike the heroes of many westerns he does not carry out these beliefs by morally duplicitous means. Gregory Peck thoroughly deserved his Oscar for a role which feeds off his natural grace and authority; even amongst such a glittering career, it remains his finest performance.

There is a comparison between this film and 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.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a beautifully nuanced examination of prejudice. Rather than needlessly caricature the more red-neck characters, it takes its time to show how ordinary people defy reason, logic, good argument and morality just to satisfy their own convictions. No courtroom drama since has quite captured the heartache of injustice as this film does when Tom Robinson is found guilty despite all the evidence proving his innocence. The long, slow walk that Peck endures, in the presence of all Robinson's supporters, is a heartbreaking image of a man of good faith broken by needless, gutless hatred.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a truly great film which still delivers an emotional punch even after all this time. Despite a few scenes which seem tame or creaky by today's standards, the film as a whole has held up immensely well. Peck's performance, and those of the young children, are beautifully complimented by Foote's deft writing and Mulligan's unfussy hand. It is a classic of its time, and essential viewing in ours.
October 26, 2013
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

A wonderful yet inevitably condensed adaptation of Lee's sublime novel, and even though harmed by some of the changes, it is heartfelt, moving and always true to the soul of her story, with Gregory Peck in a truly fantastic performance despite also a bit too stiff in the trial scene.
October 25, 2013
blacksheepboy

Super Reviewer

Gregory Peck is the personification of goodness in his part as the southern lawyer selected to defend a black man accused of rape. Director Robert Mulligan along with frequent collaborator-producer Alan J. Pakula, brings a classic of modern American literature to the screen in a near perfect masterpiece. To Kill a Mockingbird meticulously captures the reflections of a young girl. It's hard to imagine a more deft handling of what a child witnesses concerning the residents of a close-knit community. Bigotry is definitely a major subject. However Horton Foote's Oscar winning adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, is more importantly a timeless reminiscence about growing up in Alabama during the 1930s. Multiple characters and storylines are effectively managed as a portrait of the American south is painted. The atmosphere of a small southern town is perfectly captured. Russell Harlan's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography has a transcendent quality that rightfully earned an Oscar nomination. His beautifully framed evocation of the south is just as important as the actors that gives spirit to Harper Lee's words. The entire story climaxes in a entertaining courtroom drama that deals with civil rights but it leads to so much more. As the developments play out, the movie demonstrates how subsequent events have a profound effect on the formative education on a maturing protagonist.

fastfilmreviews.wordpress.com
September 22, 2013
hobster1

Super Reviewer

    1. Jean Louise "Scout" Finch: Mr Tate was right.
    2. Atticus Finch: What do you mean?
    3. Jean Louise "Scout" Finch: It would be sort of like shooting a mockingbird, wouldn't it ?
    – Submitted by M'hamed D (19 months ago)
    1. Narrator: Atticus' would be there in Jem's room all night. And he'd be there when Jem waked up in the mornin'.
    – Submitted by Frances H (22 months ago)
    1. Bob Ewell: You believe his word agin' ourn?
    – Submitted by Frances H (22 months ago)
    1. Atticus Finch: Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.
    – Submitted by Alex K (23 months ago)
    1. Jean Louise "Scout" Finch: What in the sam hell are you doin' Walter?
    – Submitted by Michael B (24 months ago)
    1. Atticus Finch: Remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.
    – Submitted by Michael B (24 months ago)
View all quotes (14)

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