Published in 1960 and winner of Pulitzer Prize, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was a best seller, but executives at Universal Pictures wondered how producer Alan J. Pakula intended to translate the book, a story about a lawyer and his kids, into a successful film. The executive’s worries were unfounded. A box office success, To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for Horton Foote. In 1995, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
An adult Scout (an uncredited Kim Stanley), tells the story of growing up in Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression. Six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and her ten-year-old brother Jem (Phillip Alford) live with their widowed father, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) a lawyer. Scout and Jem are typical kids, going to school and playing outside. During summers, they are joined by Dill Harris (John Megna, based on Harper Lee’s childhood friend, Truman Capote). The children have a fascination with a reclusive neighbor, Arthur “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall). The kids have never seen Boo, he’s never come out of his house, but a ghastly legend has developed about him, one that both scares and fascinates youngsters.
When Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Many townsfolk turn against him, particularly the alleged victims racist father Bob Ewell (James Anderson). For Atticus though, this is a case about justice, not skin. While views on race are evolving, change is coming slowly to the South. Like Ewell, most people see black men as dangerous and to be feared. Though Atticus presents a compelling case that proves Tom’s innocence, the jury finds Tom guilty, unable to trust the word of a black man over a white man.
Director Robert Mulligan takes the childish point of view seriously. Scout (Jem too, but to a lesser degree), starts the film as an innocent child. By the end, she bears witness to everything that is wrong with Southern society. An example of this is Atticus’s closing remarks at the trial. Their father is morally upright and unquestionably skilled, but even he can’t convince the jury to do the right thing. So, to is the subplot involving Boo, where she learns not to assume the worst about people.
Gregory Peck embodies the character of Atticus Finch. He successfully balances the deep compassion, morality and sense of justice that makes Atticus the man that he is. In a career that spanned nearly sixty years, Peck made more than fifty films. To Kill a Mockingbird is often named as his best. The supporting cast can’t be forgotten, particularly Mary Badham, who received an Oscar nomination for her role as Scout. Sixty years after its original theatrical release, To Kill a Mockingbird remains a powerful story and a classic of American film.
The film looks wonderful in 4K. the HDR brings out the black levels and contrast in the image, which in turn, gives it more death. Grain has been clean up, but the film maintains its filmic appearance. Whites are pleasant, never looking blown out. The print is clean, devoid of any artifacts.
Unfortunately, Universal has chosen not to re-encode for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. Instead, they have ported over the existing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks from the 2012 Blu-ray release. This is a very good track. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Elmer Bernstein’s score is noticeably full.
English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian and Swedish subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- Audio Commentary: Director Robert Mulligan and Producer Alan Pakula.
- NEW! To Kill a Mockingbird: All Points of View (2160p, 25:06) This newly produced, feature length piece explores the original novel, its timeless message and the classic film. Well worth a look.
- Fearful Symmetry (SD, 1:30:13). This feature length documentary by Charles Kiselyak, is a look back on the cultural environment from which To Kill a Mockingbird came to be. There are interviews with several participants in the film, including Gregory Peck, the child actors, as well as Mulligan and Pakula.
- A Conversation with Gregory Peck (SD, 1:37:37) This feature length documentary first finds the actor doing a personal appearance in Boston, answering questions from the audience. The film then follows Peck with various family members, as he reminisces about his career.
- Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance Speech (SD, 1:31) Short, sweet and wonderful.
- American Film Institute Life Achievement Award (SD; 10:01) An excerpt from Peck’s AFI tribute, including a speech by the actor.
- Excerpt from Tribute to Gregory Peck (SD, 10:09) finds Peck’s daughter Cecilia offering thoughts on her father.
- Scout Remembers (SD, 12:01) Mary Badham recalls her experience making To Kill a Mockingbird.
- 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics (HD, 9:13) A promo piece regarding Universal’s 100th anniversary and their restoration and preservation efforts.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:52)