Making the Grades
"It's a sin To Kill a Mockingbird," Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) tells his children. He further explains that all the feathered creatures do is make music for people to enjoy, and never harm men or their crops.
Although their father is full of such words of wisdom, from the perspective of six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and twelve-year-old Jem (Phillip Alford), the cautious, middle-aged lawyer is too much of a cowardly pacifist. Wrapped up in their own childish imagination, they prefer to see the world as a place of adventure, that requires some sort of shotgun to protect them from the elderly lady down the street whom they are sure hides a confederate pistol under her shawl, or the possible escape of the lunatic neighbor they have heard is kept chained to his bed.
But their silly superstitions prove to be no match for the real dangers of adult life, which begin to intrude upon their innocence the moment Atticus agrees to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) against the charge of raping a white woman. The biggest event to happen in the history of their small Alabama town, the court case is sure to make 1933 a year to remember.
Despite his best parental desires, Atticus knows it isn't possible for him to protect his young ones from all the ugly things in the world. Sure enough, angry gossip about his dogged determination to provide a fair trail for the accused comes to Scout's attention when a schoolyard bully starts slandering her dad.
Jem gets a feel for the amount of heat the man-of-law is taking when he witnesses the explosive reaction of Mr. Bob Ewell (James Anderson), the father of the defendant. Swaggering drunkenly, he criticizes Atticus for putting the court to so much trouble, instead of just letting him kill the offender himself.
Although Scout resorts to fist-fights to express her frustration, the ever-steady attorney chooses to use the situation to teach his family about the importance of withholding judgment until "you have stood in someone's' shoes, and walked around in them for a while."
Based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same name, the adaptation skillfully explores prejudice, racial and otherwise, all from the youngsters' point of view. Offering first-rate performances from all cast members, beautiful photography and a compelling musical score, the Oscar winning film has become a classic. Tackling some difficult and mature subject matter, the movie keeps the violence off-screen or merely mentioned, making the production appropriate for a broader age range.
As Scout and Jem try to juggle such important issues with the mundane occurrences of everyday life, it soon becomes apparent Atticus Finch's council applies to more than just mockingbirds and people's footwear. In the process, both they and the audience have their eyes opened to the courage it takes to quietly stand for the principles in which one believes.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about To Kill A Mockingbird.
What does Atticus take with him to the courthouse when he is concerned he may have to face an angry mob? What might you have been tempted to take? Why do Scout’s questions to Mr. Cunningham help to disperse the hostile crowd?
Sheriff Heck Tate (Frank Overton) makes some personal judgment calls about the investigation into the Mayella Ewell case, as well as questions about the behavior of Arthur Radley. Do you feel he has the right to make those decisions? How does his behavior affect the meting out of justice?