Arts » Arts Stories & Interviews

All good men not gone: Atticus Finch comes to SA



TCM Event Series Presents

To Kill A Mockingbird


Dir. Robert Mulligan; writ. Harper Lee, Horton Foote; feat. Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, John Megna, Robert Duvall (NR)

One night only: Thu, Nov 15 at 7 PM. At Cielo Vista 18, Huebner Oaks, and McCreeless Mall.

In 2003, the American Film Institute compiled a list of the top 100 heroes and villains of all time. Surprisingly, number one did not go to the adventurous Indiana Jones or the sophisticated James Bond but to the principled and idealistic attorney Atticus Finch, portrayed with gentle conviction by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Before Harrison Ford and Sean Connery fans are up in arms with whips and martini shakers, moviegoers should revisit this timeless classic.

Scored by Elmer Bernstein with a lullaby of tinkling piano and lilting flute, this film (based on the book by Harper Lee) approaches adult subjects from the child perspective, specifically six year old tomboy Scout (Mary Badham). Set in a small Alabama town during the racially charged 1930s, Scout explores her surroundings with older brother Jem (Phillip Alford) and buck-toothed newcomer, Dill Harris (John Megna). The days are filled with rolling down the street in a spare tire and daring each other to touch the Radley front door, which is home to a mythical monster named Boo (Robert Duvall), whom Jem describes as a six and a half foot tall man with popped eyes who eats raw squirrels and cats.

Atticus is a widower and lawyer who exudes patience and wisdom when dealing with those around him, refusing to give Jem a shotgun until he is older and quietly chiding Scout when she says inappropriate things. However, when African-American Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) is accused of raping a white woman, Atticus chooses to defend the innocent man despite the opposition of white townspeople. With this decision, he becomes a hero of Herculean proportions, putting his and his children’s lives in jeopardy to do the right thing.

And therein lies the beauty of the movie: there is no Ark of the Covenant to protect, no atomic reactor to disarm. There is just a simple lawyer defending an innocent man from injustice, both in legal and social settings. In his words, "Courage is

knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what." Atticus sees this trial through and no one’s lives will ever be the same again.

The movie won three of eight Oscar nominations, including Best Art Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foote, and Best Actor for Gregory Peck (it lost Best Picture to Lawrence of Arabia). Peck's Oscar would be his first and only win after four previous nominations, but he went on to continue a solid career as one of the greatest leading men in the history of film. But, what happened to the others? Let's see:

Mary Badham (Jean Louise "Scout" Finch): The youngest actress nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the time. Small but spunky, she went on to appear in a few TV and film roles, the latest in 2005's Our Very Own.

Phillip Alford (Jem Finch): James Stewart’s son ("Boy") in Shenandoah. Two awesome papas in a row!

John Megna (Dill Harris): Many TV program gigs in 1960s and 70s before becoming a high school English teacher. Star Trek TV series and, get this: he had an uncredited role as a young Hyman Roth in The Godfather II. He died in 1995.

Robert Duvall (Arthur "Boo" Radley): Best Actor Oscar for Tender Mercies in 1983 as well as five other Oscar nominations throughout his career, including one for his other famous role: Tom Hagen in The Godfather. His role in Mockingbird is arguably the most important small, non-speaking role in the history of talkies.

Brock Peters (Tom Robinson): Recipient of Trekkie accolades in two Star Trek films and TV's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Also background vocalist on Harry Belafonte's hit "Banana Boat (Day-O)" (“Come, Mr. Tally Mon, tally me banana!”)

— Anne Vanzant

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.