Well, it’s the first night in a while I’ve had completely free, and maybe the last for a while as well, so I’m going to spend it fruitfully in live-reviewing one of the backlogged films (and this one is really backlogged, being the 6th film we ever showed, courtesy of Jeff Padberg.
I found a copy on YouTube, though it’s not the greatest quality and the subtitles kind of get stuck under the player. Still, it’s worth a watch if you like to see folks reap what they sow.
The feature presentation was – upon first presentation at movie night – new to me. Not only had I not seen the film, but I believe I may have gone to the only high school in America that did not include To Kill A Mockingbird (directed by Robert Mulligan) in its standard English curriculum. I went in knowing only that it was considered a classic. I’ll admit I know quite a bit more about it now, including the fact that Harper Lee did a great job of writing the novelization of the film – it followed the book almost directly and hardly added any extrapolated bits at all.
But as for the movie, well, it’s starting now. Let’s see what it’s like to watch it for about the fourth or fifth time!
The opening of the film worried me a bit the first time I watched it. There is so much time spent going over this box of knick-knacks (later revealed to be a very minor plot point) that I thought I’d have to remember what was in it – as if it were a clue to be used later in the film. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
The first notable thing about the film is that the baby version of the narrator Scout calls her father by what would appear to be his first name. Of course, it can’t possibly be a name, because the word is “Atticus” which is a Latin synonym for “Roomus Subrufus” and totally not a first name. So that’s a bit confusing. Come to think of it, Scout isn’t a proper name either, nor is “Jem”, her brother’s name.
The movie introduces their friend Baby Truman Capote pretty early (by the also-not-a-name of “Dill”), and Jem and Scout go about learning Dill about the hideous bed-chained monster man next door, Boo Radley. (“Boo”? Doesn’t ANYBODY in this movie have a real name?)
It’s pretty early on in the film when Atticus Finch gets assigned to be a public defender for Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. I really kind of thought it came up mostly in the second half, but nope, it’s right at the beginning.
I think the confusion in my memory just comes from the relatively irrelevant adventures of the children that are interspersed – trying to sneak a look at Boo Radley, spitting on hinges to make them not creak, getting their pants caught in the fence, getting shot at by old Mr. Radley. You know, just the typical misbehavior that you’re going to see from kids who are brought up to refer to their father by a first name that isn’t even a name. I mean, this family needs some serious discipline. Helicopter parenting, even! (Though you do have to give Atticus a bit of credit for dropping a mad dog from fifty yards to save his entire street from the rabies.)
Honestly, until the court scenes start in earnest, the film is largely anecdotes about southern prejudices, an upright father trying to raise his children to be proper, and Boo Radley leaving trinket presents in a knothole in a tree for the kids.
But finally Tom Robinson gets brought back into town from a “safer” jail the night before his trial, and Atticus decides to camp out in front of the courthouse to ensure there’s no goings-on. Well, there are – a veritable lynch mob comes out to get Mr. Robinson. But the power of the armed and death-crazed lynch mob is no match for the innocence of a young girl and the courage of he older brother who would dare defy his father’s orders in the face of danger.
And the next day the willful children make their way into the courthouse, and with the main floor packed, they go up to the balcony to watch with the black community. It becomes clear to any reasonable eyes that Robinson is innocent of the charges – any reasonable eyes except those of the jury. Tom Robinson is found guilty, though Atticus feels that on appeal there may be a good chance. Then, from the balcony, comes one of the great tearjerkers:
Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.
But it’s not over, not by a long shot. First, Tom Robinson is killed trying to escape (so apparently he didn’t have any faith in his lawyer!) Second, Robert E. Lee Ewell (that sound you hear is the audience being banged over the head with a symbolic frying pan), the father of the alleged victim (and from all appearances the man who in fact beat his daughter) has to get his revenge. Sure, you’d think it was only a large anthropomorphic ham but he takes his anger out on it in full – and breaks Jem’s arm in the process. He’s only stopped by, of all people, Boo Radley.
Oh, look! It’s Baby Bobby Duvall! And of course, all that’s left for the movie to do is to deliver its closing line – easily one of the finest closing lines ever, and giving as good a picture of Atticus Finch as could be painted using the prior two hours combined:
He would be in Jem’s room all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.