‘Real courage’ lives in “To Kill A Mockingbird: 60th Anniversary Edition”
Updated: Jan 9
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Legendary actor Gregory Peck in his Oscar-winning role as country attorney Atticus Finch. He comforts his six-year-old daughter Scout (Mary Badham) on their front porch. Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox Paxton), a white woman during the Depression.
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“TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: 60th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy; 1962, not rated; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K) Best extra: A new 25-minute featurette “‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ All Points of View”
FOR DECADES Universal Pictures has considered “To Kill a Mockingbird” one of its most treasured films. So, when the studio celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012, the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel became the first 4K restoration project to get a home video release – at the time on Blu-ray, for its own golden anniversary.
Other studio classics followed including “Jaws” (1975), “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” (both, 1931), “The Birds” (1963), and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982). All received the same treatment, a scan of the original 35mm camera negatives, or best surviving elements in 4K, and then removing scratches, flickers and blemishes, while colors were polished for greater depth and clarity. Universal has already released those five titles on 4K Ultra HD in the last two years.
Now, “To Kill a Mockingbird” gets its moment to shine in TRUE 4K for its 60th Anniversary. The new edition includes first-rate HDR10 grading for an expanded grayscale. Highlights are bright and controlled, the mid-tones richer and darker, and deep, dark shadows display excellent detail. The 4K master registers every single element of the black and white negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) with a beautiful wash of natural film grain. It provides an extra level of facial detail most evident during the establishing wide shots of the soundstage courtroom to mimic the one in Monroeville, Alabama. Dozens of faces in the balcony and the main floor look sharper and more defined through the efforts of cinematographer Russell Harlan (“Blackboard Jungle,” “Hawaii”), while its overall HDR brightness levels max at 617 nits and averages at 28 nits.
Plain and simple, Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning performance as Atticus Finch has never looked better. The character is based on Harper’s father A.C. Lee; the American Film Institute also voted Atticus the Greatest Hero in cinema history – ahead of Indiana Jones and James Bond. Peck’s climactic courtroom speech, which runs over six minutes, was amazingly captured in a single take. It remains a breathtaking moment in cinema history.
(1) The summer is coming to an end, and Atticus talks with Scout, who will be entering first grade. (2&3) Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout start a conversation with a new boy in the neighborhood, Charles Baker ‘Dill’ Harris (John Megna). The character was inspired by Harper’s childhood friend Truman Capote. (4) Judge Taylor (Paul Fix) visits Atticus and asks him to defend Tom Robinson in the upcoming trial.
Southern lawyer Atticus Finch, a widower, tries to teach and protect his two children, Scout, a precocious, six-year-old tomboy (Mary Badham), and Jem, her 10-year-old brother (Phillip Alford) from a world of bigotry and ignorance. He defends Tom Robinson, a black man (Brock Peters) accused of raping Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox Paxton), a white woman during the Depression. Badham and Alford were first-time actors, discovered during auditions in Birmingham, Alabama, where director Robert Mulligan hoped to find authentic southern children. Mulligan got his start during the era of live TV in New York, along with the likes of John Frankenheimer, Sidney Lumet, Arthur Penn, and others who became great film directors.
As expected, the 1930s all-white jury returns a guilty verdict, even though Atticus proves Tom’s innocence. The finale has plenty of twists and turns as Scout and Jem are attacked, but saved by mystery neighbor Boo Radley played by Robert Duvall in his first on-screen role.
AUDIO The 4K and Blu-ray both carry over the six-channel DTS HD Master soundtrack created a decade ago, which pushes some effect sounds to the rear. Overall, it’s a front-and-center dialogue-driven film. Elmer Bernstein’s tender score is one of his best, a departure from his rousing scores for “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Ten Commandments,” “The Great Escape” and “The Man with the Golden Arm.” An original mono DTS-HD 2.0 soundtrack is provided for purests.
(1&2) The children are intrigued by the Radley house, located down the street, which seems always dark and closed. Jem tells Dill that Mr. Radley keeps his son Boo chained to a bed in the house. (3&4) Atticus drives out to the Robinson house to tell the family he will defend Tom during the trial. Bob Ewell (James Anderson) shows up drunk and finds Scout inside her father’s car. (5) Jem’s souvenir cigar box is filled with anonymous items he and Scout find in a nearby tree.
Amazingly, the 4K disc and Blu-ray include over three hours of bonus features. During the opening of the new “All Points of View” featurette, President Barack Obama stands at the podium giving his farewell address on January 10, 2017, quoting Atticus Finch: “If our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us needs to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said, ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’”
The featurette includes a number of interviews with film scholars and historians including Leonard Maltin, who hadn’t seen the film in quite a while. “And, at the end, I was in tears,” he says. He also provides some historical perspective, that the film was released just two years after the book was published, “before the Civil Rights Movement reached its peak.”
Shona Tucker, Professor and Chair of Drama at Vassar College says, “Though it deals with the horridness of the human heart, it also gives hope.” Mia Mask, also a professor at Vassar in the film department, considers Lee’s novel was ideal to be made into a screenplay and a motion picture. “Because it wove together the themes of criminal justice, racism embedded in that system, and also a critique of class and class relations.”
Film historian and author Donald Bogle felt Hollywood had mostly turned a blind eye to race before 1962. But a small number of films had been made “that made audiences think … But, I think ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ goes in another direction because when the movie opens, it’s almost like a piece of Americana. You get this town. Everything seems to be ordered. And then on that turf, we get this trial of Tom Robinson.” During the film, the depiction of hatred is quite evident, “vicious, mindless hatred,” Maltin says. “That, I think was exceptional in the film.” The trial scenes address racism in the justice system front and center, “insofar as it implicated it as flawed; the participants, the jurors, as deeply flawed and biased,” Mask says.
(1&2) An angry mob shows up outside the county jail wanting Tom Robinson. Atticus doesn’t budge an inch with the crowd.
The 4K disc and Blu-ray provide a commentary with Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula recorded over 20 years ago. He recalls hearing Elmer Bernstein’s main title theme for the first time as the composer played the music over the phone. The tender music runs over the title sequence designed by Stephen Frankfurt, showing the cigar box and anonymous items Scout and Jem find in a nearby tree.
The 4K disc also includes a 90-minute, standard-def documentary, “Fearful Symmetry: The Making of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’” carried over from previous editions, with interviews from the cast and residents of Monroeville. Peck’s 1989 American Film Institute acceptance speech for the coveted AFI Life Achievement Award, where he details how his career began. Originally a pre-med student, Peck trained for two years at a prestigious New York City drama school. He then received his first part, a small role in “The Doctor's Dilemma” co-starring Katharine Cornell. Within a couple of years, Peck was under contract with four studios during World War II. Hollywood was desperate for young leading men, and Peck was exempt from military service because of a spinal injury.
Another favorite is the 1999 Turner Movie Classics documentary “Conversation with Gregory Peck,” showcasing his traveling one-man speaking tour, with stops in Buffalo, N.Y., where his family roots began, and in Paris, where he met his second wife, Veronique, just before he headed to Rome to film “Roman Holiday,” with Audrey Hepburn. He also gives a history of his childhood, which included attending a Catholic military boarding school in Los Angeles. He eventually ended up at the University of California - Berkeley and didn’t give acting a thought until his senior year. He was in five productions that year, and “I found, somehow, that I liked it.”
Peck’s daughter Cecilia provides personal stories during the Academy’s tribute to her father. She describes how he had written four words – fairness, courage, stubbornness, and love – on the last page of his “To Kill a Mockingbird” script. She says it was impossible to separate her dad from the heroic Atticus. She also recalls how Pakula and Mulligan sent Peck the Pulitzer Prize novel, and how author Harper Lee became a lifelong friend of the family. Cecilia named her son after the author. Plus, a short interview with Mary Badham, who provides her own remembrances of the production.
For many, Harper’s words are considered Biblical-like. The PBS show “The Great American Read” voted “To Kill a Mockingbird” by viewers as the “most beloved novel,” joining Oprah Winfrey who had already crowned it, “our national novel.”
In American cinema, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was selected No. 25 in AFI’s Greatest 100 Movies list in 2007. At the 1963 Academy Awards, it received eight nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for Badham, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Art Direction and Screenplay from another medium.
Undeniably, this classic should be in everyone’s 4K collection – to be seen by all generations.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) The courtroom of the Old Monroe County Courthouse was recreated on a Universal Studio soundstage for the famous courtroom scenes. (2) Atticus and Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) listen to the county prosecutor as he provides the case against Tom. (3) Accuser Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox Paxton) and her father Bob Ewell. (4) Atticus cross-examines Mr. Edwell. (5) Jem, Scout and Dill watch the court case from the balcony, where the African-American residents were forced to watch. (6&7) County prosecutor Mr. Gilmer (William Windom) questions Mayella Ewell, as the all-white male jury listens. (8&9) Tom Robinson gives his emotional account of what happened between him and Mayella. (10) Tom's friends and family listen to his testimony. (11) After the trial Atticus goes to the Robinson house with more bad news.
(1-3) Scout finally meets mystery neighbor Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) after he rescued Jem from an attacker.