Last week hundreds of movie theaters nationwide held a one day showing of the 1962 film classic "To Kill A Mockingbird" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the film's release. The movie is based on Harper Lee's popular novel of the same name and stars Gregory Peck as the main character — the morally upright attorney Atticus Finch. The movie version of the novel has proven to be almost as popular as the novel itself.
The American Film Institute has the film ranked as No. 25 on its list of the top 100 films of all time; in addition, Peck's character Atticus Finch places first on the AFI's list of top heroic movie characters of all time. Both the book and the movie have had an enduring appeal — surely one of the the main qualities of a "classic."
The novel is set in the deep South and centers around Finch's defense of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white girl. The novel is the only book ever written by the talented novelist from Alabama named Harper Lee. Lee, still alive at age 86, but reportedly nearly blind and partially deaf, has consistently refused to give interviews or to speak publicly about the book; however, she did forge an enduring friendship with Gregory Peck. She once said of Peck that her character of Atticus Finch allowed "Gregory Peck to play himself." One of Peck's grandsons is named "Harper" after the novelist.
The director of "To Kill A Mockingbird" was Robert P. Mulligan. Mulligan, a Marine Corps veteran of World War II, was born in the Bronx in 1925 and lived until Dec. 20, 2008, dying at his home in Lyme, CT. Mulligan's first film was "Fear Strikes Out," the 1957 baseball movie about Waterbury native and 17-year major leaguer Jimmy Piersall.
In 1962, Mulligan was asked to direct "To Kill A Mockingbird." After initial reservations about the movie, he agreed to the job and ended up being nominated for an Academy Award for best director in 1962. Mulligan went on to direct many other movies including the smash hit of 1971 — "Summer Of '42." His final film was "The Man In The Moon" (1991). That film marked the acting debut of Reese Witherspoon.
Part of the reason that Mulligan agreed to direct "To Kill A Mockingbird" was the compelling screenplay written by Horton Foote, for which he won an Academy Award. Foote, a talented playwright as well, is credited with launching Robert Duvall's career. Duvall was cast as Boo Radley in "To Kill A Mockingbird."
Horton Foote led a long and productive life. He died just 10 days shy of his 93rd birthday on March 4, 2009, in Hartford, CT. He was in Connecticut to watch his daughter, Hallie, in a Hartford Stage production of his own adaptation of "To Kill A Mockingbird."
In the 50 years from its initial release in November of 1962, the film "To Kill A Mockingbird" remains that rare movie that seems to do justice to a great novel. Its impact upon people has also been profound, as this quotation from a 1997 interview with Gregory Peck clearly demonstrates:"Hardly a day passes that I don't think how lucky I was to be cast in that film ... I recently sat at a dinner next to a woman who saw it when she was 14 years old, and she said it changed her life. I hear things like that all the time."
The movie took in over $20 million at the box office — an enormous amount for the time. Its running time is 128 minutes — time well spent.