To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

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By Scott Ross

It’s seldom a good idea to adapt great literature to the movies. But if you’re intent on doing it, at least hire Horton Foote to write the screenplay. Foote’s script distills the essence of Harper Lee’s superb novel, and that’s about all you can hope for in these things. (Alas, the sub-plot involving Mrs. DuBose was cut from the final print, costing the narrative a rather crucial metaphor. But that’s hardly his fault.)

Gregory Peck’s performance as the good man doing a difficult job probably inspired an entire generation of activists (and lawyers) and the children, Mary Badham and Phillip Alford are about as good as it’s possible to imagine. The sensitive direction is by Robert Mulligan. With a score by Elmer Bernstein that soars past genius and into something very much like the sublime. Those final strains at the climax are intensely, hair-raisingly evocative.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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