In the rural south of the 1930s, a black man is charged with the rape and beating of a white woman. Defending him is Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), and the events surrounding the case are seen through the eyes of Finch’s two children. The film is thus just as much about children’s fears (embodied by Boo Rradley [Robert Duvall], the boogeyman next door) and perceptions of the world as it is about race and unequal justice.
In Finch, Peck incarnates what may well be the supreme portrai… of absolute decency on the screen. But such is his presence, so convincingly does he radiate honour, that the portrayal is never cloying, and feels so true that even this skeptic was struck to the bone. The performances by the children are also superb. Mary Badham (who plays daughter Scout) in particular is utterly authentic.
This is another case of unnecessary overkill when it comes to the soundtrack. The original mono is joined by DTS and 5.1 versions, and while the sound is good in every case, there isn’t a heck of a lot of difference between the remixes and the original. There is a nice richness to the audio, granted, and there is a tiny bit of surround, but this last would largely pass unnoticed most of the time. There is no inappropriate use of the surround, however, and the dialogue is clear and undistorted.
A bit of guitar string damage is visible under the credits (though you have to be looking for it). Other than that, the print is in close to mint condition, as far as scratches and speckling go, at any rate. The grain level varies somewhat. Most of the time it isn’t much of an issue, but there are a few shots that are less sharp, notably one at the very end of the film. The image is (mostly) very sharp, but there is sometimes some edge enhancement visible.
On Disc 1, director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula provide a good commentary track (recorded, obviously, before the latter’s death in 1998, so this isn’t new). The other extras on this disc are bits and pieces: Peck’s Oscar speech, the AFI Life Achievement Award ceremony, an excerpt from the Academy’s tribute to him, an NBC interview with Mary Badham about her role, and the theatrical trailer.
Disc 2 has two feature-length documentaries. A Conversation with Gregory Peck, produced by his daughter, interweaves a live question-and-answer evening in a concert hall with home movies and other footage of Peck’s personal life. Fearful Symmetry: The Making of To Kill a Mockingbird, though saddled with a narration that is rather too self-consciously poetic, is also a pretty thorough look into the making of the film and its larger social ramifications. These are serious documentaries, far beyond the usual DVD fare. The menu’s main screen is animated and scored.
Great film, great bunch of extras. This is a Legacy Series release worthy of the name.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- “A Conversation with Gregory Peck” Documentary
- “Fearful Symmetry” Documentary
- Best Actor Acceptance Speech
- AFI Life Achievement Award
- Academy Tribute to Gregory Peck
- “Scout Remembers” Interview
- Theatrical Trailer