To Kill a Mockingbird [1962]

Ranked 34 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American Films, To Kill a Mockingbird is quite simply one of the finest family-oriented dramas ever made. A beautiful and deeply affecting adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, the film retains a timeless quality that transcends its historically dated subject matter (racism in the Depression-era South) and remains powerfully resonant in present-day America with its advocacy of tolerance, justice, integrity, and loving, responsible parenthood. It's tempting to call this an important "message" movie that should be required viewing for children and adults alike, but this riveting courtroom drama is anything but stodgy or pedantic. As Atticus Finch, the small-town Alabama lawyer and widower father of two, Gregory Peck gives one of his finest performances with his impassioned defense of a black man (Brock Peters) wrongfully accused of the rape and assault of a young white woman. While his children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Philip Alford), learn the realities of racial prejudice and irrational hatred, they also learn to overcome their fear of the unknown as personified by their mysterious, mostly unseen neighbor Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his brilliant, almost completely nonverbal screen debut). What emerges from this evocative, exquisitely filmed drama is a pure distillation of the themes of Harper Lee's enduring novel, a showcase for some of the finest American acting ever assembled in one film, and a rare quality of humanitarian artistry (including Horton Foote's splendid screenplay and Elmer Bernstein's outstanding score) that seems all but lost in the chaotic morass of modern cinema. --Jeff Shannon

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