I don’t think any amount of praise can really do To Kill A Mockingbird justice. To begin with, there is Harper Lee’s book, which is arguably one of the most perfect stories ever written, and was (amazingly) acknowledged as such in its own time. There was then the daunting task of translating the book to film, and somehow the magic happened all over again. The end result is so magnificent that it seems as though it was meant to be.
The Legacy Series Edition is quite possibly the most thoughtfully designed collector’s edition DVD set I have ever seen. The cover art is gorgeous, and I must admit that I got a little choked up just opening the package. I immediately spotted the second disc, which includes A Conversation With Gregory Peck, a charming and inspiring documentary made by his daughter, Cecilia. I had the good fortune of catching most of it on PBS, and was pleased at its inclusion. Then I opened the old-fashioned envelope tucked in the side, and discovered an impressive postcard set of To Kill A Mockingbird posters from around the world. Clearly a great deal of care went into this edition.
The urge to cry stayed with me as I sat glued to the movie. Even though I knew what was coming, I was absolutely riveted. The movie itself is very touching, but this time, I was struck by the effort that must have gone into making the film so resonant and timeless. It truly is beautiful.
Lee prevents the central theme of prejudice and injustice from descending into a blatant morality tale by telling the story through the eyes of little Scout Finch (Mary Badham). Scout is a feisty, outspoken tomboy, and things are never dull from her point of view. Her brother, Jem (Phillip Alford) is more responsible, but just as quirky, and their new friend Dill (John Megna) is a weird little firecracker. Dill is so odd that you can’t take your eyes off his scrawny body, bucky teeth, and almost nonexistent neck.
The children are awed and puzzled by their father, Atticus (Gregory Peck), and do their best to understand his world. He’s such a sweet and wise father, but the children know little about his work as a lawyer. It’s not until he agrees to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters ) a black man framed for the rape and assault of Mayella Ewell, that the children learn what sort of man their father really is.
Another neighborhood mystery surrounds the Finchs’ peculiar and reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall). All sorts of rumors have spread about Boo, and he has taken on a terrifying and legendary status within the town. Slowly the Finch children learn not to judge other people until, as Atticus says, “you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” As the film builds to its bittersweet conclusion, its social commentary is strongly felt, but does not overshadow the events that unfold.
I can’t imagine anyone watching To Kill A Mockingbird without hoping that Gregory Peck was something like the character he portrayed with such grace and dignity. A Conversation With Gregory Peck confirms that he really was the person you wanted him to be. He was like Atticus to those who knew him, and the friendships formed with Mary Badham and Harper Lee lasted a lifetime.
Three hours into the To Kill A Mockingbird DVD set, I’d officially given over to crying. Gregory Peck was such a thoroughly lovely man that it’s a pleasure to watch all the extra features that pay tribute to him, but it’s all the more heart-breaking to know that he’s gone. His natural wit, eloquence, and intelligence are obvious, and everything he stood for makes you want to be a better person. Though the Gregory Peck we know as fans lives on, the world is surely a poorer place without him in it.