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To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 8th, 2009, 1:28 pm
by movieman1957
If any of you have been following the adventures of our friends who are to be Guest Programmers on TCM next month then you may have seen Lynn (lzcutter) talk about her love of this film. In fact she has stated on more than one occasion that she is glad they didn't pick as she probably could not have come through the segment.

I have asked her if she would talk about the film and share what it means to her.

After she posts her thoughts I hope we can have a nice long discussion on the film.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 10th, 2009, 11:44 pm
by Lzcutter
Hey Chris,

I'll probably break my thoughts into sections instead of writing one long post.

My first thoughts go to how so many things in this film are broken.

Maycomb is in a small town but because it is in the depths of the Depression, it is broken. There are people in town who cannot pay their bills except by "entailments"

The Finch family is broken to a degree. Atticus is without a wife and is raising his two children without a mother. Everyone in the family feels the loss of the late Mrs. Finch. Atticus tries his best to be a loving father with a firm hand and he tries to teach his children the difference between right and wrong.

The Ewell family is, like the Finch family, also broken. But whereas Atticus works hard to give his children a good home and all the love he can, Robert E. Lee Ewell is the direct opposite. He is a mean and nasty man when sober and even worse when drunk. His daughter Mayella is so deprived of love that she risks everything to kiss Tom Robinson, a man who in that time and in that community, is forbidden fruit.

The Radleys are broken as well. Though both Mr. and Mrs. Radley are both still living whatever life they had was shattered the day that Boo stabbed his daddy with the scissors. The family has endured Boo being kept in the basement of the courthouse and knows the whispers of the townsfolks about him still living at home.

All these families come together in a town that is enduring the hardships of the Great Depression and is caught between two eras, still mired in the Jim Crow attitudes and laws of the post-Civil War era and the brighter future that looms on the horizon of history.

In the two hour span of the movie, everyone including the town itself, comes to a crossroads and has to decide in what direction is it going to go.

Heck Tate quietly makes the case to Atticus to just let things be and let folks think "Bob Ewell fell on his knife" to protect not only Scout and Jem from a trial but Boo Radley as well.

Atticus has to face that despite his best efforts, he was not able to keep Tom Robinson safe or change the mind of the jury even when he presented them with the evidence that Tom Robinson had done nothing wrong. A jury made up of the men in the town where he is raising his family.

A town that he deeply loves but that he knows is deeply flawed.

Will Walter Cunningham's father and the old Sarum gang, as well as the men on the jury, give way to the thinking and actions of folks like Atticus, Miss Maudie and Heck Tate so that Maycomb will grown peacefully in the years ahead during the Civil Rights movement or will it fight tooth and nail as so many Southern cities did to retain its Jim Crow way of life?

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 8:48 am
by movieman1957
It's interesting you view everything as broken. Of course you are right but I failed to see it that way. It was a town with problems but it is much more. The families are incomplete (at least stereotypically) or dysfunctional in some form.

Maudie is single. I don't know why but on the surface she seems to be a perfect candidate for a wife. By implication one for Atticus. Dill's Aunt Stephanie seems to live alone. The bigger question is why Dill is sent there every summer. The cranky old neighbor just seems miserable. Oddly, the most intact family is the Robinsons. Not that it did them any good. We can get more on the Finch family situation later.

Being broken in spirit can lead to a lot of sad times. This town is that.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 9:57 am
by jdb1
Chris, Dill was sent to Aunt Stephanie every summer because he represents Harper Lee's dear childhood (and beyond) friend Truman Capote, who was sent to boarding schools, and constantly farmed out to all his relatives, especially his rather eccentric aunts, in the summer. Capote's mother was not exactly devoted to him, and she had a dashing second husband (at least she thought so) to keep her occupied.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 10:22 am
by movieman1957
I knew Dill was supposed to be Capote but I didn't know the rest of it. Thanks.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 1:15 pm
by Lzcutter
The one thing that I knew that Robert O would say which would strike me down in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity to talk on-camera with him about Mockingbird was "Let's talk about your favorite scene."


I can't talk about any of my favorite scenes without getting a lump in my throat. And once the lump starts, the tears start falling almost in tandem.

Luckily, I am not alone in what for many is the quintessential moment. Even Sam Jackson (Jedi master, an Incredible and just the fact that he is Sam Jackson) admits he gets teary-eyed at the thought of the scene, so I am not alone.

Scout, Jem and Dill have been in the courhouse all day with the Reverend and the rest of the black community listening to the testimony. This being the 1930s, the balcony is the segregated area known back then as the "colored" section.

"Miss Jean Louise, Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your daddy's passing."

I can't even type those words without getting tears in my eyes. As Atticus packs up his books and turns to leave the courtroom, everyone in the balcony rise to not only mark his leaving but also in support of his passionate defense of Tom Robinson. If any other attorney in town had taken the case, the proceedings would have been over by lunch time.
Is there anyone that does not keep teary just thinking about that moment?

So, that would have been a problem for me but even if I had gone with my second favorite scene I would have been a blubbering mess on camera because the scene in the bedroom after Jem and Scout are rescued is just as heart-rendering as the scene above.

*********************************Spoiler Alert*******************************

"Jean Louise, meet Mr. Arthur Radley. I believe he already knows you."

"Hey, Boo."

The wonderful Elmer Bernstein score swells and I am reduced to another crying mess. Through the tears I watch as Scout tells Boo that "You can pet him, Mr. Arthur. He's asleep. Couldn't if he was awake, though; he wouldn't let you. Go ahead." while Heck and Atticus discuss the options of what has happened on that long walk home. Atticus is concerned about the effect a trial will have on his children having to relieve the terror of the attack by drunken Bob Ewell. Concerned so much, that for once Atticus forgets about the other "child" involved in the attack, Boo. It falls to Heck Tate to remind Atticus of what would happen to Boo if the real story got out:

"But maybe you'll tell me it's my duty to tell the town all about it and not to hush it up. Well you know what'll happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb including my wife will be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinking, taking the one man who's done you and this town a big service and dragging him with his shy ways into the limelight - to me that's a sin... it's a sin. And I'm not about to have it on my head. I may not be much Mr. Finch, but I'm still sheriff of Maycomb County and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night sir. "

After Heck says good-night, Scout comes out and tells Atticus that Heck is right,

Atticus "What do you mean?"
Scout: " Well, it would be sort of like shooting a mockingbird, wouldn't it? "

And with that, she takes Mr. Arthur's hand and walks Boo home. Kim Stanley's haunting narration tells us:

"One time Atticus said you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them; just standin' on the Radley porch was enough. The summer that had begun so long ago had ended, and another summer had taken its place, and a fall, and Boo Radley had come out. I was to think of these days many times. Of Jem, and Dill, and Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson, and Atticus. He would be in Jem's room all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning. "

Never has the Universal backlot felt so universal.

I would still be in Atlanta trying to make it through the taping so I knew that as much as I love this film there was no earthly way I could talk about on camera with Robert O.

But thanks to Chris, I can talk about here with all of you and not worry about mascara running down my face!

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 1:32 pm
by movieman1957

My friends and I talked about the end of the court room scene and how the crowd and the childrend react. It is one of my favorites minutes in film. As Peck packs up I think he is quite unconcious of what goes on above him but so close to him. When the Reverend tells Scout to stand you can see him straighten up almost to attention as he says those words to her. He voice almost deepens and certainly firms up so to note that this is important. Scout only knows that is her dad and as much as she loves him he is still Dad. She doesn't stand up when he comes into her room or to the kitchen table but she is taught that her father is indeed someone special and to be honored as more than only a father.

A similar sense of this comes from Jem at the courthouse when the town comes calling. Jem will stand with his father for a couple of reasons. One is he obviously loves his father but he wants to be like him. Jem knows his father will not leave and he. I think, is honoring as well as offering his help. Of course, Scout quite innocently reduces the whole situation to one of guilt and calm. Her innocence is the only thing that would work.

One interesting thing that came up in our discussion after the film is the role of Cal. It was noted that while she is clearly an emloyee she is given the uptmost respect and even anuthority over the children. Not once does Atticus demand anything of her. She is asked, always nicely, to get something or to wait a moment or to please do this or that. When she scolds Scout over the syrup incident and lovingly, but firmly, pops her on the bottom that is a mark that she is to be listened to. The children respect her and I think love her. She is no substitute for their mother but she fits as well as one could hope in the family. She also sacrifices beyond her duty. When Atticus asks her stay the night she can but at what cost to her own family? There is mutual respect not only for where their position in the family is but also of each other as individuals.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 2:02 pm
by Lzcutter

I think the courtroom scene is where Jem and Scout come to realize the impact and reputation that Atticus has on and with the community.

They see first hand the injustice that he is standing against. Jem, I think, realizes it on deeper level than Scout, that their father is standing against and fighting against the majority of the town. But in the court proceedings that day, he comes to understand on a deeper level the difference between right and wrong.

Earlier in the film, Jem complains because Atticus is old and not able to play sports with him the way the way other fathers in town do with their sons. Both he and Scout are surprised to find out from Heck Tate that Atticus is the best shot in the county, another fact that they were unaware of.

But there in the courtroom, especially in the balcony, they come to have a better understanding of their father.

I totally agree about Cal. Her presence in the home is a daily reminder of the way Atticus is raising his children. To be respectful of adults no matter what their color, to mind their manners and to be aware that actions have consequences.

In contrast to Dill and Walter Cunningham's lives, the Finch home must seem a bit like heaven on earth where everyone talks politely to one another (well, for the most part) and Jem and Scout by far are the most grounded children in the story.

Dill is shuttled between relatives and lives vicariously through his made-up stories of how his daddy works for the railroad. Walter Cunningham comes from a poverty stricken family and his daddy is also a moon-shiner which back in those days was against the law.

And from the brief descriptions we get of the Ewell family and from their behavior in court we know that they are not only poor but that Mayella lacks the very love that the Finch children take somewhat for granted.

It's a movie that works on so many different levels. I think that is one reason that it resonates so much with people. Each time you watch it, you can discover a little something you haven't seen or realized before.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 2:20 pm
by movieman1957

Do you think Mayella's actions are as simple as finding someone to love her? I don't think there is anything conspiratorial about what happened. She clearly knows that at least the circumstances are wrong but Tom has been nice to her so maybe she took that as interest. I'm not sure she was that naive but was it about love or about being an adult woman?

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 2:25 pm
by knitwit45
But thanks to Chris, I can talk about here with all of you and not worry about mascara running down my face!

ah, but's running down MY face. I, too, cannot talk about this film without tears, and sometimes a sob disguised as a hicccup.

I remember watching a TCM promo for the educational program available to schools, and some of the students who had taken the class were interviewed. One little boy talked about Atticus sitting on the porch swing, with his arm across the back. I had never paid much attention to that, other than being aware of how heartbroken Atticus was over the loss of his wife. The little boy in the promo pointed out that Atticus had his arm across the back of the swing, the way he would have been sitting with his wife tucked under his arm. sniff...

Thanks for sharing your insights into this movie, it is as you said, every time I watch it, I find something new.


Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 2:40 pm
by CharlieT
I'll be keeping a close eye on this thread. Our local technical college hosts a Life Enrichment Institute for people 50 and older and it is featuring three courses themed on To Kill A Mockingbird. One is just a showing of the film at the college, but it is also being shown at the local "historic" theater around the same time. This is a one night event, followed a week later by a discussion on the book. The third course is a 4 week symposium on "To Kill A Mockingbird and Its Place in American Culture". It will cover the book in its historical context, sociological context, and literary context to be followed up with a study of the movie from various perspectives including narrative theory, cultural standpoints and a comparison of the book to the film.

My daughter said she is going to pay for this for me as a belated birthday present, but I haven't seen the money yet. :(

I hope she comes through before the class fills up and I get shut out. :x

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 3:42 pm
by movieman1957

That would be great to hear your thoughts before and after all that study.


I've watched that scene on the front porch swing often and never thought of him having his arm there as if his wife would be sitting with him. That kid is so right though. How often did they do that? I do see as a place where he can sit and enjoy listening to his children talk. It must have been so peaceful after they fell asleep. He might also contemplate everything from what life will bring to what might have been but watching him sit so still as he listens is quite moving.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 4:09 pm
by Lzcutter
movieman1957 wrote:SPOILER*********

Do you think Mayella's actions are as simple as finding someone to love her? I don't think there is anything conspiratorial about what happened. She clearly knows that at least the circumstances are wrong but Tom has been nice to her so maybe she took that as interest. I'm not sure she was that naive but was it about love or about being an adult woman?

I don't think she thought of what the consequences her actions could have if she was caught. I think she was a lonely girl without many friends and a "a bunch of young'uns" to raise in the wake of her mother's absence. Did Mrs. Ewell die or did she run off to escape what must have been a rather hard life with a hubby who loved drinking more than working?

Mayella was starved for love and her father and brothers thought of her, from the sounds of things, as their own personal maid. She was a rather plain girl without many prospects and even fewer on the horizon.

I think Tom Robinson was one of the few people to show her kindness and she took to it like a cat does to milk, unfortunately for all involved, without thinking it through.

She seriously underestimated her father's reaction to her kissing Tom Robinson and Bob Ewell could't have the people of Maycomb thinking his daughter was chasing after a "colored" man.

Once she realized the consequences of her actions, she hid behind her father's story rather than take responsibility for her actions.

She never had the firm hand and loving guidance of a father like Atticus. She only knew the wrath of Bob Ewell and she would rather lie and risk Tom Robinson going to jail for a crime he didn't commit than have to live with Ewell's rage.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 4:52 pm
by charliechaplinfan
My first introduction was to the book, I love the book, it's very special. The film brings the book to life and is one of the better adaptations from a novel that has been brought to the screen. I can almost smell the South when I watch the film. When I was lucky enough to visit the South a few years ago I was looking for the town Harper Lee described.

I knew of the connection to Truman Capote and of his childhood. Do you think that the town was a town from the South or is it associated with a particular place.

I think if I were an American I would love it even more, it's one of your great works of film and literature. Tears come to my eyes too.

Re: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted: March 11th, 2009, 5:46 pm
by silentscreen
The special ultimate edition of the film has the most fantastic extras! It really gives you a great understanding of the South at that time and what it was like for the child actors to make the film. It was very heart rending, something none concerned with the making of the film ever forgot. It was Gregory Peck's favorite film. It's one of mine as well.