Oscar Vault Monday – To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962 (dir. Robert Mulligan)
1962 is a tough year to talk about because two of the greatest and most beloved films of all-time came out that year: Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill A Mockingbird; both were nominated for Best Picture. I feel the need to mention a few other amazing films from that year that weren’t up for the top prize: Birdman Alcatraz, Days of Wine and Roses, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Manchurian Candidate and Lolita. Also four films that I haven’t yet seen, but have been meaning to: Divorce Italian Style, Last Year At Marienbad, Through a Glass Darkly and The Miracle Worker. The other three films nominated for Best Picture that year were: The Longest Day, The Music Man and Mutiny on the Bounty. I love The Longest Day and have yet to see The Music Man, but I must say the 62 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty has not aged well at all and is waaaay longer than it has any right to be. I guess my point is that 1962 was one heck of year for film and you owe it to yourself to get to know some (if not all) of these great films. This is not a “the Academy got it wrong” post; this is a “how were they even able to choose?!” post. To Kill A Mockingbird was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three: Best Score, Best B&W Cinematography, Best B&W Art Direction (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Actress Mary Badham, Best Director, Best Actor Gregory Peck (won), Best Director and Best Picture.
Confession: I have never actually read Harper Lee’s novel on which this film is based. I haven’t not read it purposefully. I just haven’t gotten around to it. I will someday, I swear. That said, it would be an understatement to call it one of the most beloved novels of the twentieth century. The same can be said for the film version. It’s ranked #60 on the user-ratings generated Top 250 on IMDB, the American Film Institute ranked it #34 in their 1998 list of the greatest American films ever made and then ranked it #25 in their ten-year anniversary list. AFI also ranked Atticus Finch as the #1 hero, the film score at #17 and the film was ranked the #1 courtroom drama and #2 most inspiring film (just behind It’s A Wonderful Life). This was the only film for which Robert Mulligan received an Oscar nomination, though he continued to make films until 1991. I particularly love his next film, 1963’s Love With The Proper Stranger (featuring Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood), which desperately needs a proper DVD release.
As I stated above, Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch was listed as the #1 hero by the American Film Institute and it’s hard to argue with that placement. He is an ideal that I’m not sure really exists in life, but that I think we all hope does. Peck plays the role to perfection in one of the most subtle performances of his career. I can’t help but be a little sad that he won the Oscar though, mostly because it meant Peter O’Toole lost for Lawrence of Arabia – the first of eight losing Best Actor nominations. In fact, I’ve seen four of the five Best Actor nominated performances from 1962 (those two and Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz and Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses) and you couldn’t ask for more different performances (I’m willing to bet Marcello Mastroianni in Divorce Italian Style is pretty brilliant as well). This is just an impossibly great year for cinema. This was Peck’s fifth (and final) nomination for Best Actor; the previous nominations were for The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), The Yearling (1946), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947; Best Picture winner) and Twelve O’Clock High (1949). He also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1968. I’m still kind of dumbfounded that he wasn’t up for any Oscars in the 1950s. You’d think he’d’ve been nominated for Roman Holiday, right?
Mary Badham is sublime as Scout (an older Scout, voiced by the luminous Kim Stanley narrates the film), Atticus’ tomboyish daughter. I think part of why Atticus is presented in such an idealized manner is because the film is from Scout’s point of view. Badham has great chemistry with her on-screen father and that tenderness adds so much to the power of the film. Badham was ten when she made this film (her debut); she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (losing to 16 year-old Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker). Although she acted in only a handful of other projects after this film, her Scout will remain one of the most iconic performances – by a child or otherwise – ever brought to the silver screen.
Brock Peters made his debut in 1954’s Carmen Jones and was active in cinema for more than fifty years (his last appearance was in television in 2005, the year of his death from pancreatic cancer). Aside from his role as unjustly accused Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird, Peters also had prominent role in the sci-fi film Soylent Green and played the father of Captain Sisko on television’s Deep Space Nine (I loved that show!). Like I said, 1962 was a great year for cinema and a tough year at the Oscars, but I still kind of wish they could have made room for Peters in the Best Supporting Actor category. His testimony scene make up some of the greatest moments of the entire film.
I had to mention Collin Wilcox and James K, Anderson, who play Tom’s accusers Mayella and her father Bob Ewell, who, SPOILER ALERT, is the actual rapist. For a film that was made when the Production Code was still a thing (and would be until 1967), this plot twist was some fucked up shit. Wilcox in particular blew me away during her testimony scene. Heart-wrenching. Anderson made over 120 appearances in films and television in his career that spanned over thirty years. The scene towards the end of the film when he silently confronts Atticus and spits on him gets me every time.
Lastly, I must mention Robert Duvall as Arthur “Boo” Radley. How could I not? Although Duvall had appeared in a few episodes of television prior to this film, To Kill A Mockingbird was his feature film debut and is perhaps one of the most iconic debut film performances of all time. Boo is essentially the mockingbird referenced in the title (if you’ve seen the film, you know what that means), but he’s also represents our fear of the things we don’t understand. I could see arguments that the character and what he represents hits us over the head a little too strong, but I think it’s done so perfectly that it doesn’t matter. Although Duvall was not nominated for his role in this film, he would go on to receive six Oscar nominations (so far), winning once: The Godfather (1972, Best Supporting Actor), Apocalypse Now (1979, Best Supporting Actor), The Great Santini (1980, Best Actor), Tender Mercies (1983, Best Actor, won), The Apostle (1997, Best Actor), A Civil Action (1998, Best Supporting Actor). He also gives a knock-out performance in 1976’s Network.
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Posted on November 28, 2011, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged 1962, Brock Peters, Collin Wilcox, Gregory Peck, Harper Lee, James K Anderson, Mary Badham, Robert Duvall, Robert Mulligan, To Kill A Mockingbird. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.