After 50 years, To Kill a Mockingbird [Universal] still looks pretty good. Or better, thanks to an excellent new Blu-ray transfer. This 50th Anniversary Edition of Robert Mulligan's classic, issued as part of the Universal 100th Anniversary Collector's Series, somehow seems even more impressive as the years pass. Back in 1962 it was dangerously provocative, yes, at a time when segregation was still alive and well and legal in the deep South. That overlay of controversy is gone, thankfully so; few viewers today are likely to argue in favor of the sadistic villain Bob Ewell. Thus, we can concentrate on the moral questions posed by novelist Harper Lee and screenwriter Horton Foote without being sidetracked by what was then a contemporary political discussion.
Gregory Peck stands out in his Oscar-winning role of Atticus Finch. It is simple enough to call this the performance of his career, although that might be disputable if you stop to consider his full body of work. In any case, Peck is wonderful here. (Some of this excellence, I suppose, has to be credited to Ms. Lee and Mr. Foote.) Peck is joined by a fine array of actors, with six of the nine featured players coming direct from Broadway.
Most remarkable of the group is Mary Badham as Scout, the girl at the film's center. (At ten, she was the youngest actor nominated for an Oscar; as luck would have it, she lost to 16-year-old Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker.") Phillip Alford, too, gives a lovely performance as the boy Jem. The third child in the group was nine-year-old John Megna, as the Truman Capote-inspired Dill. Megna — who at seven played Tony Perkins' brother in the Frank Loesser musical Greenwillow, immediately followed by the role of Colleen Dewhurst's son in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play All the Way Home — is especially striking. Other performances of note come from Brock Peters, as the innocent man convicted of rape (direct from Kwamina); and a ghostly young Robert Duvall as the mysterious Boo Radley. If the off-screen narrator sounds familiar, that's because it's the uncredited Kim Stanley.
Universal has wrapped this "Mockingbird" in a handsome package. The 44-page hardcover slipcase contains an introduction by Peck's wife Veronique, who tells us that her husband's one request when he was dying in 2003 was that Brock Peters give his eulogy; a selection of posters, window cards, news clippings, and telegrams received by the star when he won his Oscar; storyboard samples; and assorted sheets from Peck's shooting script — with the words "fairness," "stubbornness," "courage," and "love" scrawled on the final page. There is also an introduction from novelist Lee, who became a long-time friend and shares with us Gregory Peck's secret: "When he played Atticus Finch, he played himself."
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