Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

To Kill a Mockingbird


DIRECTED by Robert Mulligan
PRODUCED by Alan J Pakula
SCREENPLAY by Horton Foote
ORIGINAL MUSIC by Elmer Bernstein
CINEMATOGRAPHY by Russell Harlan
ART DIRECTION by Henry Bumstead

I don’t know if Lee will ever make a Top 25 Movies list, but if she does, the only movie on my list that I am sure will also be on hers is this one. Casablanca? Almost certainly. Nights of Cabiria? The Bicycle Thief? Maybe. But this quiet little masterpiece will definitely be there.

Usually, when I start off on a tirade on what rotten scum lawyers are, Lee reminds me of Atticus Finch. Was there ever, in real life, a man as good as Atticus, much less a lawyer? I don’t know, probably not, but the fictional character serves as a good reality check. It makes me remember that, no matter what scumbags some lawyers are, we do need them, and they do good work. The alternative is anarchy, every man for himself and the strongest one wins every time, or totalitarianism, the State does absolutely anything it wants to do. Sure, the strong usually do still win (the rich, in this case), and sure, the government still can screw you badly, usually with the help of lawyers. But if you ever get in trouble, either innocent or guilty, you will want the toughest legal eagle you can find on your side.

I first saw this film in a little theater on Powell Street in San Francisco with my first wife, who was from Long Beach. She had a highly developed sense of injustice, and could hardly believe it when the jury found Tom Robinson guilty. Later, outside, she simply could not understand that Robinson’s guilt or innocence had never really been in question in that jury room. The important thing was to make sure that when a white woman, no matter how trashy or how obviously a liar, made an accusation against a nigger, he had to be convicted. It wasn’t about justice; it was about control.

This film is one of the most faithful adaptations of a book ever made. You’d think that, when Hollywood buys a wonderful book, they’d try to make the movie as much like the book as possible. We all know that seldom happens. In this case Horton Foote, a southerner himself, turned in one of the best screenplays ever by simply using the scenes and dialogue provided to him by Harper Lee.