WE just revisited “To Kill a Mockingbird”, one of the most well-loved films of our youth. We love both the 1960 book by Harper Lee (a superb example of superior storytelling) and the 1962 movie directed by Robert Mulligan. The film version was nominated for best picture and best director but it lost to David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, which was much grander in scope and budget.
But Gregory Peck won as Oscar best actor for his iconic and quiet role as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, trouncing Peter O’Toole who gave a much more flashy performance as the colorful and enigmatic real life character, T. E. Lawrence.
We saw the film in a downtown Manila theatre when we were 16 years old. In the late 60s, while working with the Film Programming Department of ABC Channel 5 in Pasong Tamo, Makati, the TV station bought the rights from Universal Pictures for several films and “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of them. We got to see the film again. Several times.
Now, some 50 years later, during Holy Week, we saw it again on video. We remember we cried the first time we saw it and now, the effect is the same. We are so touched once more. Both the book (the only novel by Harper Lee, now considered a modern classic of American literature) and the film tackle serious issues about rape, racial discrimination and social injustice, but told with so much warmth and humor from the point of view of the tomboyish 6-year old Scout (played by Mary Badham, who got an Oscar best supporting actress nomination).
It’s mostly a recollection of her own childhood in the deep southern town of Maycomb, Alabama in 1932. Scout and her brother Jem are taunted by classmates as nigger lovers because their widower dad, Atticus (Peck), is ostracized for defending in court a black man accused of raping a white woman, which later leads to some very tragic consequences.
The story is also about Scout and Jem’s loving relationship with their dad, their friendship with an ugly boy named Dill, and their misadventures with a reclusive neighbor who lives in a scary house, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, this is his first film, in a nonspeaking role, and he went on to have a successful acting career.)
The film’s title is a direct quote from Atticus who says it’s a sin “to kill a mockingbird” as it all it does is to sing beautifully. The magnificent musical score by Elmer Bernstein is so moving and unforgettable for us. We got LSS by it and it was playing in our ears for years and years. We’re now humming it again.
Nowadays, content is at its peak as not only more new films and TV series are being released than ever before, but streaming has given us the chance to choose from thousands of content available through the sheer volume of entertainment being offered online, both foreign and local.
But there is still much satisfaction from watching films we’ve already seen. Now, when faced with so many choices, it’s easier to return to an old friend like “To Kill a Mockingbird” that we know won’t disappoint us. It evokes old feelings that are already familiar with us.
It also makes us reflect on how much we’ve moved on, how much we’ve grown and which values have remained with us through the years. It’s also a kind of gauge that measures how much has changed in our lives.
And there’s the welcome element of nostalgia when we recall simpler and perhaps happier times in our lives, when the world was still covid-free and we can roam anywhere we want to go without fear of being infected.