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To Kill a Mockingbird 50th Anniversary - Cinémathèque / Nighttown

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Friday, November 9th @ 7 p.m.
Cinémathèque @ Cleveland Institute of Art
Special Presentation on 50th Anniversary
3 hours (approx), Black & White
Director: Robert Mulligan
Writer: Harper Lee
Producer: Alan J. Pakula
Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Philip Alford, John Megna, Brock Peters, Robert Duvall, Rosemary Murphy, Paul Fix, Collin Wilcox, Alice Ghostley, William Windom, Frank Overton and James Anderson

If you think that you saw this on television - you really didn't. This is the full restored version. The television version was cut-up for commercials and time constraints.

Set a small Alabama town in the 1930s, the story focuses on scrupulously honest, highly respected lawyer Atticus Finch, magnificently embodied by Gregory Peck. Finch puts his career on the line when he agrees to represent Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man accused of rape.

The trial and the events surrounding it are seen through the eyes of Finch's six-year-old daughter Scout (Mary Badham). While Robinson's trial gives the film its momentum, there are plenty of anecdotal occurrences before and after the court date: Scout's ever-strengthening bond with older brother Jem (Philip Alford); her friendship with precocious young Dill Harris (a character based on Lee's childhood chum Truman Capote and played by John Megna); and her father's no-nonsense reactions to such life-and-death crises as a rampaging mad dog. And, especially Scout's reactions to, and relationship with, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall in his movie debut), the reclusive "village idiot" who turns out to be her salvation when she is attacked by a venomous bigot.

To Kill a Mockingbird won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Art Direction.

The film was based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel and translated to film in 1962, by Horton Foote and the producer/director team of Robert Mulligan and Alan J. Pakula.

Trailer (click here)

Special Note: Mary Badham, who played “Scout” Finch in the beloved 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird, will appear in person on Friday, November 9 at 7 p.m. at the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinémathèque, 11141 East Boulevard in University Circle. Badham, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, will answer audience questions after a 50th anniversary screening of the landmark movie, which will be shown in a 35mm print from the Universal Pictures studio archive.

Mary Badham's claim to fame was for her distinguished portrayal of the young girl, Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). She was chosen over 2,000 other young actresses and afterwards won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Following that, Badham only appeared in two more movies and in episodes of two TV shows, Dr. Kildare and Twilight Zone. She is the sister of filmmaker John Badham. ~

Who: Mary Badham (Scout Finch) – Oscar nominee - Best Supporting Actress
What: To Kill a Mockingbird – 50th Anniversary
When: Friday, November 9 at 7 p.m.
Where: Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinémathèque, 11141 East Boulevard, corner of Bellflower (University Circle)
Where After: Discussion, Drinks or Late Dinner: Nighttown

Tickets cost $20; Cinematheque members and those with Cleveland Institute of Art I.D.’s $15. Advance tickets can be purchased at If any seats remain on November 9, $10 tickets for those age 25 & under will go on sale at the Cinémathèque box office starting at 6:00 pm (cash/check only).

Robert Mulligan’s film stars Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, a widowed Alabama lawyer in Depression-era Alabama. Finch’s two young children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Badham), witness prejudice and racial hatred firsthand when their father defends an innocent black man in an inflammatory rape case. Peck won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his iconic portrayal. Ten-year-old Badham became the youngest Best Supporting Actress nominee up to that time. Ironically, she lost the statuette to another child performer, 16-year-old Patty Duke in THE MIRACLE WORKER.

The movie was a hit at the box office, quickly grossing more than $20 million from a $2 million budget. It won three Oscars: Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for Horton Foote. It was nominated for five more Oscars including Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout.

The Cinematheque offers free parking for filmgoers in the adjacent Cleveland Institute of Art lot. For further information, call (216)[masked] or e-mail [masked].

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To Kill a Mockingbird rates 94-percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (click here)

President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee during a ceremony Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, in the East Room. "To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced the character of our country for the better. It's been a gift to the entire world. As a model of good writing and humane sensibility, this book will be read and studied forever," said the President about Harper Lee's work. White House photo by Eric Draper

For a detailed discussion of the film go to Wikipedia (click here)


To Kill a Mockingbird
November 11, 2001
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a time capsule, preserving hopes and sentiments from a kinder, gentler, more naive America. It was released in December 1962, the last month of the last year of the complacency of the postwar years. The following November, John F. Kennedy would be assassinated. Nothing would ever be the same again -- not after the deaths of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, not after the war in Vietnam, certainly not after September 11, 2001. The most hopeful development during that period for America was the civil rights movement, which dealt a series of legal and moral blows to racism. But "To Kill a Mockingbird," set in Maycomb, Alabama, in 1932, uses the realities of its time only as a backdrop for the portrait of a brave white liberal.
The movie has remained the favorite of many people. It is currently listed as the 29th best film of all time in a poll by the Internet Movie Database. Such polls are of questionable significance, but certainly the movie and the Harper Lee novel on which it is based have legions of admirers. It is being read by many Chicagoans as part of a city-wide initiative in book discussion. It is a beautifully-written book, but it should be used not as a record of how things are, or were, but of how we once liked to think of them.

The novel, which focuses on the coming of age of three young children, especially the tomboy Scout, gains strength from her point of view: It sees the good and evil of the world through the eyes of a six-year-old child. The movie shifts the emphasis to the character of her father, Atticus Finch, but from this new point of view doesn't see as much as an adult in that time and place should see.

Maycomb is evoked by director Robert Mulligan as a "tired old town" of dirt roads, picket fences, climbing vines, front porches held up by pillars of brick, rocking chairs, and Panama hats. Scout (Mary Badham) and her 10-year-old brother Jem (Philip Alford) live with their widowed father Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) and their black housekeeper Calpurnia (Estelle Evans). They make friends with a new neighbor named "Dill" Harris (John Megna), who wears glasses, speaks with an expanded vocabulary, is small for his age, and is said to be inspired by Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote. Atticus goes off every morning to his law office downtown, and the children play through lazy hot days.

Their imagination is much occupied by the Radley house, right down the street, which seems always dark, shaded and closed. Jem tells Dill that Mr. Radley keeps his son Boo chained to a bed in the house, and describes Boo breathlessly: "Judging from his tracks, he's about six and a half feet tall. He eats raw squirrels and all the cats he can catch. There's a long, jagged scar that runs all the way across his face. His teeth are yellow and rotten. His eyes are popped. And he drools most of the time." Of course the first detail reveals Jem has never seen Boo.

Into this peaceful calm drops a thunderbolt. Atticus is asked by the town judge to defend a black man named Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), who has been accused of raping a poor white girl named Mayella Violet Ewell (Collin Wilcox). White opinion is of course much against the black man, who is presumed guilty, and Mayelle's father Bob (James Anderson) pays an ominous call on Atticus, indirectly threatening his children. The children are also taunted at school, and get in fights; Atticus explains to them why he is defending a Negro, and warns them against using the word "nigger."

The courtroom scenes are the most celebrated in the movie; they make it perfectly clear that Tom Robinson is innocent, that no rape occurred, that Maybelle came on to Robinson, that he tried to flee, that Bob Ewell beat his own daughter, and she lied about it out of shame for feeling attracted to a black man. Atticus' summation to the jury is one of Gregory Peck's great scenes, but of course the all-white jury finds Tom Robinson guilty anyway. The verdict is greeted by an uncanny quiet: No whoops of triumph from Bob Ewell, no cries of protests by the blacks in the courtroom gallery. The whites file out quickly, but the blacks remain and stand silently in honor of Atticus as he walks out a little later. Scout and her brother sat up with the blacks throughout the trial, and now a minister tells her: "Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your father's passin'."

The problem here, for me, is that the conviction of Tom Robinson is not the point of the scene, which looks right past him to focus on the nobility of Atticus Finch. I also wonder at the general lack of emotion in the courtroom, and the movie only grows more puzzling by what happens next. Atticus is told by the sheriff that while Tom Robinson was being taken for safekeeping to nearby Abbottsville, he broke loose and tried to run away. As Atticus repeats the story: "The deputy called out to him to stop. Tom didn't stop. He shot at him to wound him and missed his aim. Killed him. The deputy says Tom just ran like a crazy man."

That Scout could believe it happened just like this is credible. That Atticus Finch, an adult liberal resident of the Deep South in 1932, has no questions about this version is incredible. In 1962 it is possible that some (white) audiences would believe that Tom Robinson was accidentally killed while trying to escape, but in 2001 such stories are met with a weary cynicism.

The construction of the following scene is highly implausible. Atticus drives out to Tom Robinson's house to break the sad news to his widow, Helen. She is played by Kim Hamilton (who is not credited, and indeed has no speaking lines in a film that finds time for dialog by two superfluous white neighbors of the Finches). On the porch are several male friends and relatives. Bob Ewell, the vile father who beat his girl into lying, lurches out of the shadows and says to one of them, "Boy, go in the house and bring out Atticus Finch." One of the men does so, Ewell spits in Atticus's face, Atticus stares him down and drives away. The black people in this scene are not treated as characters, but as props, and kept entirely in long shot. The close-ups are reserved for the white hero and villain.

It may be that in 1932 the situation was such in Alabama that this white man, who the people on that porch had seen lie to convict Tom Robinson, could walk up to them alone after they had just learned he had been killed, call one of them "boy," and not be touched. If black fear of whites was that deep in those days, then the rest of the movie exists in a dream world.

The upbeat payoff involves Ewell's cowardly attack on Scout and Jem, and the sudden appearance of the mysterious Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his first screen performance), to save them. Ewell is found dead with a knife under his ribs. Boo materializes inside the Finch house, is identified by Scout as her savior, and they're soon sitting side by side on the front porch swing. The sheriff decides that no good would be served by accusing Boo of the death of Ewell. That would be like "killing a mockingbird," and we know from earlier in the film that you can shoot all the bluejays you want, but not mockingbirds -- because all they do is sing to bring music to the garden. Not exactly a description of the silent Boo Radley, but we get the point.

This is a tricky note to end on, because it brings Boo Radley in literally from the wings as a distraction from the facts: An innocent black man was framed for a crime that never took place, he was convicted by a white jury in the face of overwhelming evidence, and he was shot dead in problematic circumstances. Now we are expected to feel good because the events got Boo out of the house. That Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell may be justice, but it is not parity. The sheriff says, "There's a black man dead for no reason, and now the man responsible for it is dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time." But I doubt that either Tom Robinson or Bob Ewell would want to be buried by the other.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is, as I said, a time capsule. It expresses the liberal pieties of a more innocent time, the early 1960s, and it goes very easy on the realities of small-town Alabama in the 1930s. One of the most dramatic scenes shows a lynch mob facing Atticus, who is all by himself on the jailhouse steps the night before Tom Robinson's trial. The mob is armed and prepared to break in and hang Robinson, but Scout bursts onto the scene, recognizes a poor farmer who has been befriended by her father, and shames him (and all the other men) into leaving. Her speech is a calculated strategic exercise, masked as the innocent words of a child; one shot of her eyes shows she realizes exactly what she's doing. Could a child turn away a lynch mob at that time, in that place? Isn't it nice to think so.

TV Guide

Peck's peak. Based on Harper Lee's semiautobiographical, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 1960, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a hauntingly nostalgic portrayal of childhood mischief set in a racially divided Alabama town in the 1930s. If the film's tone sometimes seems overly righteous, it's offset by a poetic lyricism that is difficult to resist embracing.
Gregory Peck plays incorruptible lawyer Atticus Finch, a widower with two children, 10-year-old Alford and tomboyish 6-year-old Badham. During the summer, Alford and Badham amuse themselves by rolling each other down the street in a tire or playing in a treehouse. What occupies them most, however, is the creaky wooden house where Robert Duvall lives. According to neighborhood legend, Duvall is crazy and chained to his bed by his father, though he has never been seen, at least by the children. While the kids play, Peck agrees to represent a black man who is accused of raping a young white woman. A number of people try to pressure him into stepping down from the case, but his pursuit of justice is unwavering. As the trial proceeds, Peck, Alford, and especially Badham learn as much about each other as they do about their own fears and prejudices.
Since its release, this intelligent, atmospheric film has been warmly received by audiences responding not only to their own childhood, but also to the heroic image portrayed by Peck, a shining example of citizenship and affectionate fatherhood.
There is also a superb score by Elmer Bernstein. The language, emotions, and general subject matter of the trial scenes may be a bit rough for some children, but in Peck's solid, idealistic hands, all good things triumph. This was Robert Duvall's film debut.

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  • Ruthanne

    An absolute delight! An added bonus to hear Mary speak of her experiences. The place was packed and everyone enjoyed the event

    November 10, 2012

  • Bill J.

    Wonderful film! If you haven't seen the film in a theater in its entirety - 2 1/2 hours, then you haven't seen it.

    November 10, 2012

  • Bill J.

    Change of plans - CIA parking will not open until 6 p.m. We'll eat at Panera, 11490 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, 44106, 216.231.2900. I'll be there at 5 p.m.

    Target being at Cinematheque no later than 6:30 p.m. They expect a sell-out tonight!

    November 9, 2012

  • Ruthanne

    I have to work until 5. Will do my best on time

    November 8, 2012

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