To Kill a Mockingbird

Wowza!

To Kill a Mockingbird (1963)

I had the privilege of viewing To Kill a Mockingbird in the theater recently as part of TCM and Fanthom’s collaboration that puts classics on big screens around the country for one-day events. The theater I visited was stuffed with viewers, which is great to see for an old movie even if it is something as popular as this one.

I’m not sure how long it had been since I had seen To Kill a Mockingbird from start to finish. I saw it for the first time as a high schooler after reading the book in school and thought it was a good flick then. But to see it as an adult with a better appreciation for cinema, strikes a much stronger chord.

The plot is almost two separate stories, with the trial of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) interrupting the tale of Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford) growing up in small-town Alabama with their father as a top-notch role model. It is the trial portion of the story that is the most impactful for me. Not only is the unjust trial of a black man for the rape of a white woman frustrating to no end, but Atticus’ (Gregory Peck) handling of the case is remarkable. The trial is emotionally draining for both us and Atticus and the unfortunate end always draws tears.

Somehow Atticus seems to be the only person who thinks as we do today on this matter who is also brave enough to seek out and defend the truth. The ignorance of Mr. Ewell (James Anderson) and his disgusting nature is unbearable to witness as is the willingness of the townsmen to convict a man before he has had his day in court.

Scout’s interference when a mob attempts to access Tom at the jail before the trial also grabs at my throat. These angry men, some of whom would claim to be friends with Atticus, place the attorney in a precarious position, but the innocent and ignorant bliss of a child is enough to shame the aggressors into a retreat. The moment is unforgettable.

But life goes on after the trial and picks up where the beginning portion of the movie left off. The surrounding story depicts the adventures Scout and Jem have, especially during their summers out of school. In the summers they are joined by a visiting boy Dill (John Megna) who alters Scout’s relationship with Jem. Whereas the siblings seem to have existed as equal partners in crime, the arrival of Dill into the mix puts Scout in a subordinate position where she is regularly reminding the boys that their mischief is not a good idea and being consistently ignored.

One of the regular sources of curiosity is the Radley home. The Radleys have a son that the children believe to be a lunatic who was once held captive in the basement of the jail until he became sick from the dampness. The legend creates a Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) far more terrifying than the man who would intervene and save the lives Scout and Jem. Again, Atticus seems to be the only person in town who takes a rationale and honest view of the boy, which we see at the film’s end with his all-so-natural introduction of one Arthur Radley.

But despite the fear the children face at the thought of Boo, the mysteries related to their interaction with the home suggest to us that the man is a kind, gentle sort. The surprise untangling and folding of Jem’s pants that had been stuck in the Radley fence and the conveyance of trinkets in the hollow of a tree are only friendly gestures by a man living in a lonely world.

The brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird and its on-screen enactment is that it reminds all of us about being a child. We might not have grown up in a small town in the 1930s, but we all experienced adventure, spooky legends and fear of some unknown. We also all wish we had parents –and perhaps some of us did– like Atticus Finch. Although perfectly capable of disciplining his children for their disobedience, he approaches every situation with a level head and utmost calm. The children plainly respect their father as much as they love him.

Despite the impressive look of the little town, it is not a place you can visit. Universal built it on the studio backlot after surveying the actual town of Harper Lee’s book, Monroeville, which had seen many changes in the 30 years since the story’s setting. The studio even went so far as to disassemble and reestablish clapboard houses on the set, which gives it much of its realism. The movie won an Oscar for Best Art Direction. Among its other awards were Best Actor for Peck and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

Roman Holiday

Wowza!

Roman Holiday (1953)

     I far less often rewatch movies as I do search out new ones, but I’m starting to realize that when I do revisit an old favorite, it tends to be much better than I remembered. So goes Roman Holiday for me. Who could count how often I watched it when at the start of my Audrey Hepburn obsession, yet it had been a few years since I’d reunited with the actress’ first starring role.

     Roman Holiday is sort of the full package in cinematic storytelling. It is adventurous, innocent, cleverly humorous and throws in a bit of romance and heartbreak for good measure. In truth, who would not want to live Princess Anne’s adventures through an exciting foreign city with a handsome stranger?

     Hepburn is this princess who stops in Italy as part of a goodwill tour of Europe. We learn from the opening scene where she greets and endless line of diplomats while dressed in a white ball gown complete with regal medals that she is not so different from any other young woman. Standing for what feels like hours, Anne pulls her foot out of her shoe to give it a break only to fail to get it back into the high heel. When Anne finally sits, the shoe is left lying in front of her while she maintains her poise.

     That night, Anne suffers a nervous breakdown after comparing the fun-loving Italians partying on the street beyond her window to the meticulously scheduled day ahead where she again must let her royal persona supersede her natural behaviors. A doctor is summoned to sedate the princess, but as soon as her caretakers leave the room, Anne sneaks out of the Colosseum and onto the Roman streets.

     Once the sedative catches up to her, Anne reclines on a street bench, which is where foreign correspondent Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) finds her. He has no idea who she is but realizes quickly she is well read. Not wanting her to be arrested, he tries to arrange a cab ride home but instead is stuck hosting the young woman in his apartment where the innocent sexual tension begins.

     The next morning, Joe heads to work after missing an appointment to interview Princess Anne, not knowing the press conference was cancelled because of her highness’ “illness”. When he spots a photo of the princess in the paper, he realizes she is asleep in his room. Arranging with his editor to score a hefty bonus for an exclusive interview, Joe dashes home to ensure he keeps the young woman with him.

     Anne, who has introduced herself as Anya Smith, wakes with all the surprise and reservation a princess should when finding herself in a strange bed and in men’s pajamas. She departs Joe after borrowing money and the man lets her go, but ensures he runs into her later. The two then start a day full of exploration and adventure that is joined by Joe’s photographer friend Irving (Eddie Albert), who discreetly snaps photos using a cigarette lighter camera.

     The adventures culminate in dancing by the river where royal secret service spot the young woman. The ensuing calamity results in a brawl and Anne hitting one of her pursuers over the head with a guitar. When Joe falls in the water, Anne dives in as well and the two swim to the opposite bank where they share an unexpected kiss. Both are in love, but both know Anne’s duty to her country will outweigh any feelings the two have. She returns to the Colosseum and her caretakers a new woman, more mature but more in control of her movements than ever before. The princess’ meeting with the press is rescheduled for the next day where she discovers Joe and Irving’s true identities and realizes they knew her’s all along.

     Perhaps the most emotional scene in Roman Holiday is this last one. Anne is still reeling from her romance and in any other setting would have run into Joe’s arms upon the joy of seeing him again. Instead, she must maintain the deliberate and restrained facade any princess must and takes questions without allowing her gaze to be fixed on her love. Breaking protocol, however, Anne announces she will meet a few members of the press and walks down the row of men and women shaking hands and offering calm greetings. She deliberately starts at the end opposite Joe and Irving so as to linger with them last. We are privy to all that passes between the couple during their slow handshake through the shots of their faces that to all else look perfectly normal. We can feel the tension and how difficult it must be for both parties to keep from embracing one another.

     Hepburn was perfectly cast as Anne, although her perpetually youthful look creates some question as to the age difference between the princess and the reporter. The young actress, however, naturally had the poise, accent and upbringing that easily painted her as royalty (her mother being an actual baroness). Her performance brings all the spontaneity we would want to see in a sheltered young woman living life on her own for the first time. The well-written dialogue rolls well off Hepburn’s tongue, such as in her sedated state when she instructs Joe to help her undress for bed.

     Peck, too, fills the role aptly. He lets the awkwardness of the original meeting with Anne play comically without having to be a funny actor himself. He also makes clear to us from the outset that Joe is not the sort of man who is really looking to exploit a girl for his own profit, so we can relax and know nothing sinister will befall Anne.

     William Wyler directs this high comedy. The master was given two options by the studio for shooting. He could either film it in color on a soundstage or in black and white on location. We can all be assured he made the correct choice. Rome itself becomes another character to the story as we experience some of her most famous sites and culture. The Italian extras also add another level of realism as they patter off half their dialogue in their native tongue.

CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, Ohio)

For those of you who live in central Ohio as I do, you will be glad to hear CAPA has posted its lineup for this year’s Summer Movie Series. I have seen a lot of these but am always willing to rewatch something if it’s on the big screen.

I’ll definitely be seeing Hitchcock’s Frenzy as I’ve been meaning to give that another chance. Other must sees if you haven’t already include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Bringing Up Baby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Big Sleep.

Sadly, no Audrey Hepburn movie this year as there usually is. For those who have not experienced a favorite or classic movie on the big screen in a theater full of people who love the movie as much as you, it really is a memorable experience. I recommend it.

What to Watch: Friday

The royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton holds no great appeal for me unlike many in America, however, the grand event, set for Friday, brings with it a cinematic celebration of sorts on Turner Classic Movies. That evening, the channel will air a number of royal-themed films, all of which happen to be good flicks.

Royal Wedding (1951)

First up at 8 p.m. ET is Royal Wedding starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell and Peter Lawford. I have never been in love with Astaire but usually watch his films anyway. This one, however, is among my favorites. Astaire and Powell are a brother and sister musical duo on tour in London for Elizabeth II’s wedding. Powell meets Lawford and the two have an adorable romance. Meanwhile, Astaire tries to court a dancer. The musical contains the famous “Dancing on the Ceiling” number whereby a trick of simultaneously rotating camera and set make it seem as though Astaire is actually walking on the walls and ceiling (the same effect was used in certain scenes of 2010′s Inception). This is also the first solo directing credit for Stanley Donen.

Roman Holiday (1953)

 
Next on the schedule is Roman Holiday airing at 10 p.m. Given that Audrey Hepburn is my favorite actress, I naturally love this flick directed by William Wyler. It was her first major role and she won her only Best Actress Oscar. Hepburn plays Princess Ann who runs away while visiting Rome and is rescued by American reporter Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, after sleeping pills have her adopting a street-side bench as a bed. The young princess explores the city anonymously, although Bradley has figured out who she is. No one could have played the free-spirited Ann like Audrey.

The Glass Slipper (1955)

A new take on a classic princess story, Cinderella, is the subject of the 12:15 a.m. airing of The Glass Slipper. Leslie Caron plays the pauper who is lucky enough to attend the prince’s ball. This flick is not as great as the previous two, but it is a nice live-action musical with one of the greatest musical stars of France: Caron. It also offers a realistic take on the fairy godmother character, who is a crazy old lady that fell from a prominent position in society after “reading too many books”.

The Swan (1956)

Finally, if you can make it to 2 a.m. you will be entreated to a romantic Grace Kelly flick that predicts her eventual royalty. The Swan casts Kelly as a princess whose family has fallen out of the good graces of a greater sect of the family that includes the queen. To save the family, Kelly’s Alexandra must win over a distant cousin (Alec Guinness) and marry him. The trouble is, she is in love with her tutor (Louis Jourdan). It is one of the less memorable of Kelly’s roles but a great one anyway.

 
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