To Kill a Mockingbird, The Movie

Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

[amazon_link asins=’B000I9VOO4′ template=’RightAlignSingleImage’ store=’rebereid06-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7ddffe1b-17f4-11e7-ad88-c96d2a60b2c1′]Making a movie of To Kill a Mockingbird (reviewed here) was like killing a mockingbird: a sin.

In the beginning, I thought “Wow, this is bad; they should do a remake.” By the end, I decided that no remake could capture the beauty of the novel: any film is bound to fail. A picture is not worth a thousand words.

To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus, was produced in 1962, just one year after Harper Lee’s novel won the Pulitzer Prize. I watched it with high hopes, since Harper Lee herself was pleased with it. She said:

In that film the man and the part met… I’ve had many, many offers to turn it into musicals, into TV or stage plays, but I’ve always refused. That film was a work of art. (from Wikipedia)

I beg to differ. I thought her novel was a work of art. I thought the Oscar-winning movie was horrid.

For your information, I am not a movie person. I much prefer reading. But movies are a nice entertainment occasionally.

I have many complaints, but I’ll only mention a few. My main complaint was with the focus. Instead of a story about Scout learning about the world (racism and other discriminations) as she grew up from age 6 to age 9, the movie was about Atticus trying to defend a black man in court and the repercussions in the community. It showed everything from Atticus’s or Jem’s perspective.

For example, in the novel, Scout discovers some chewing gum near the Radley property, and later the children discover other treasures there. In the movie, Jem discovers the treasures, and he only tells Scout about them after the fact. I felt Scout was completely short-changed; the movie barely followed her personal development.

Along that same line, the movie only followed the racial tension and discrimination. It essentially eliminated the other discriminations discussed in the book: poor versus very poor, educated versus not educated, boy versus girl, older brother versus little sister, Nazis versus Jews, and so forth. My favorite line from the book was when Scout was explaining the world in her nine-year-old wisdom: “Nah, Jem, there’s only one kind of folks. Folks.” Scout’s realization never appeared in the movie because the movie never addressed such a general concept. The movie was too specific.

Another complaint is that the movie followed the basic story. And that was it. There were some tweaks that I could understand, and there were some added scenes that I didn’t. But overall, the problem was a lack of magic behind any of the words as they were spoken. No character got fully developed and so none of them had power. Not even Atticus.

My final complaint is that all involved were horrible actors. Even Gregory Peck was forced and insincere. The children were 100 times worse. These were not the characters I had in my head as I read it!  I know that is always a problem with watching a movie of a book, but for me, the horrible 1960s acting just made me cringe.

(Gregory Peck got an Oscar. How? Also, the main review written for claims this is number 34 on a list of 100 top movies of all time. Like I said, I’m not a movie person, so I don’t get it. My only guess is that they must not have read the book. This movie is garbage compared to Harper Lee’s magic.)

For your entertainment, here is the DVD case’s summary, complete with grammatical errors and typos. I had hoped that the DVD case was not indicative of the movie itself. Unfortunately, it was:

This is Gregory Pecks beautifully told testament to courage, morality and the power of deep personal conviction, based on Harper Lee’s 1960s Pulitzer prize-winning novel. A widowed attorney with two young children accepts the significant challenge of defending a black man wrongly accused of rape in there racially divided small town. Brock Peters is Tom Robinson, a field hand on trial for the rape of a white woman. Prejudice reigns supreme in the backwoods town were the trial takes place. And as an in tolerant 1930’s society rebels, Atticus prepares his defence while trying to raise his children.

In the end, my main complaint was the completely wrong focus of the movie. The movie seemed black and white (which, of course, it was): race was the only discrimination fully mentioned. Scout herself never faced any true recognition of what it means to be a neighbor.

I realize there are limits in movie making: something has to go. Because everything in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird is so essential to the whole, I don’t think anyone should even try to make it a movie. It’s bound to fail.

What book do you love that should never ever ever be made into a movie? (I’m sorry to say, but it probably already has…)

Reviewed on August 11, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I’m almost ashamed for not having read this book (which I would prefer to seeing the movie), but only on very, very few occasions does the movie live up to the printed word, don’t you think?

  • This is probably akin to blasphemy for some people, but I hated the movie of Gone With the Wind. I loved the book, but watched the movie right after reading it, which was a mistake. I enjoyed watching To Kill A Mockingbird, but it had been a while since I had read it. (I have since reread it.) In my shallowness, I think I may have liked it because I think Gregory Peck is (or was) so handsome!
    A book is almost always better than the movie, but I think the more recent BBC adaptations of novels have been excellent. (North and South, Vanity Fair, and Bleak House are my favorites) I love to see the clothing and buildings of the time period and have a better picture of the story. They may stray from the original plot, but if it’s a good production, I’m okay with it.

  • Diana Raabe, it’s a great book! I’d highly recommend it. And yes, Chain Reader, I think part of my problem was I’d just read the book: a movie will never stack up to that!

  • Whew. I can’t believe I’m behind on commenting, but I did want to comment. First, just briefly, I disagree with you on this one, BUT I know how you feel. I have the same issue with the movie The Grapes of Wrath and the book The Grapes of Wrath. The book is so much better than the movie. While I appreciate the cinematography of the movie, I think the director (John Ford) turned the story on its head to be a Rah-Rah America, capitalism works story when really that’s not what Steinbeck, a socialist, intended.

  • unfinishedperson, Glad you did like the movie! I am just not a movie person, I guess, because I always find a problem when I watch them….combine that with having just read the book and I loved it, and the movie had no chance!

  • It’s been years since I’ve seen the flick AND read the book, but I know the movie was first for me. This was a fascinating post – I enjoyed it. I am inclined to disagree with you, but I am not one to try and convince you that changing your opinion is necessary. If movies are not your preferred story telling medium, I suggest you might always skip the flick? PS I think I watched one of those “best of” shows recently and Gregory Peck IN THIS ROLE was #1 as best actor of a great character.

  • Care, I know I’m in the minority in disliking this one. I watched it because it had such rave reviews. But watching this kind of movie makes me dislike movies in general. Seriously, if this is great acting, I don’t want any part of it in any movie.

    Maybe it would have been better if I didn’t already have the characters in mind. I thought Gregory Peck was a horrible Atticus. Atticus was not so cold and stiff in the book.

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