To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Film Review and Its Message in the Midst of Racial Tensions

Image Source: PBS.

Another movie where Gregory Peck is a lawyer! (Cough, cough, that was also an important role he played in Cape Fear, a thriller released earlier in the same year.) The 1962 movie is simply a masterpiece and is recognized as such. Based on the novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird features some first-rate acting talent.

In addition to Peck, there is acting legend Robert Duvall, Brock Peters (who would later have success in big sci-fi pictures), James Anderson, Paul Fix, and Alice Ghostley among others. Many of these performers would appear frequently in TV programs during their careers. All of the child actors provided equally splendid and genuine performances.

Image Source: Lithub.

There are several significant things going on within the plot. Remember the story is being retold through a child’s eyes, through her memories and what knowledge she had of the events being relived in the movie. As a girl at the time when the story takes place, the narrator reminisces. Nonetheless, the viewer is able to follow along as it is given tidbits of information about the case that Atticus Finch is working on.

We find out that the ruling of this court case bears more meaning than most for it involves a heated hatred toward blacks on the part of a white farmer. Atticus is one of the few white men in the community who stands up for equality.

This had to be a controversial film for 1962. At that time, segregation and its demoralizing consequences were present and quite real in many of the U.S. states. In fact, if members of a black community had wanted to see the movie, they would not be permitted to go to a “regular” theater. Instead, they could go to the designated “colored theater.”

Example of a “Colored” Theater of the Day. Source: Britannica.

Similar to the novel, the cinematic adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird certainly delivered a gut punch to the inflated ego of America’s white pride in the turbulent sixties, a decade which would see an explosion of civil rights movements, especially those promoting racial equality. Unfortunately, the fate of Tom Robinson, the African-American man on trial in To Kill a Mockingbird was one too realistic. The character is murdered by a mob of enraged white men. His charge had been that of making sexual advances toward a white woman. In his defense, he said that it was the other way around. The woman had made advances toward him. Robinson was a victim twice over.

In reality, this was a story being told in the early sixties. 7 years prior, Emmett Till (a 14-year-old African American) was maliciously murdered for being accused of flirting with a white woman. This was a stain on American society which was still quite noticeable in 1962. Lynchings of African-Americans were still common during the decade. Activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated six years later. And here was To Kill a Mockingbird right in the midst of it with a message. As far as depicting the possibility of harmony between people of different colored skin, To Kill a Mockingbird is on a par with Remember the Titans (2000).

Image Source: Bakpax.

However, the ideal of the unjust killing of a mockingbird is nonrelevant to the equality messages of the story. This relates to the mysterious character of Boo Radley, an often hidden figure of the neighborhood who is a frightening figure in the minds of the Finch children. However, he ends up being a secret guardian during a dangerous trek the children take one dark Halloween eve.

A well-known work of art from the filmmaking industry, To Kill a Mockingbird holds a special place in today’s popular culture. Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show and the Studio C series are a few of the programs which have featured short parody sketches of scenes from the classic motion picture.

The audience will find themselves having the same curious intrigue, delight, and fear as the children in the movie. Yet it has a very strong and (for the time) bold message underlining the tale. The film won over half a dozen awards. It is a classic among classics, remaining one of Gregory Peck’s best-remembered lead roles.