The other reason I love him, of course, is Atticus Finch. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, and Robert Mulligan's film version is the gold standard of page-to-screen adaptations as far as I'm concerned. Horton Foote's lyrical screenplay is a lovely distillation, of course, but there's also Mary Badham's precocious performance as Scout, and Peck's note-perfect portrayal of Atticus, the greatest father in the world. Tough but fair, friendly but fearsomely fierce when called for, and most importantly wise beyond anything.
The film doesn't put a foot wrong, starting right at the opening credits sequence, using a child's box of treasures and drawings - and Elmer Bernstein's perfect score - to immediately put you in the headspace of a six year-old girl. I don't think any film has ever put you so efficiently into the mood of the film - just watching the opening credits of Robert Mulligan's masterpiece makes you nostalgic for Maycomb, Alabama of the mid-1930s, even if you've never been there.
I love To Kill A Mockingbird so much that it's difficult to pick one shot as "Best". A large part of me wanted to highlight one of the unsung members of the supporting cast and pick one of the shots that they just knock out of the park (Mulligan hardly ever cuts in the middle of conversations or big speeches here, bless him) - like Rosemary Murphy as Maudie ("Some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us."), or Frank Overton as Sheriff Heck Tate ("It's a sin. And I'm not about to have it on my head."). Or hell, even two of the meatier roles that somehow STILL manage to be unsung:
Brock Peters as Tom Robinson and Collin Wilcox Paxton as Mayella Ewell.
|The greatest push-in in movie history?|
But the one I toyed with the most is the introduction to Robert Duvall's Arthur "Boo" Radley:
...because his face
is so fucking gorgeous so ably portrays so many emotions while seemingly hardly doing anything at all.
And don't even get me started on any shot from the justifiably famous, perfect, tear-jerking "your father's passing" scene.
But there were two shots of Atticus that really captured me this time around, watching with this project in mind. The first is perhaps more notable for what's playing on the soundtrack while it happens:
|Best Shot Runner-Up|
This happens while Scout is sleepily asking Jem about their mother, and it's our first real insight into Atticus as something more than just a perfect father - he's kind of alone in this world. Peck's performance, combined with the dialogue, makes you wonder about what his life was like before his wife passed away, and how it affected him, without ever going so far as to suggest he is how he is now because she's no longer around. A tricky line to walk. Like the rest of the film, it's perfectly judged.
But it was this one that struck me most, in a way I wasn't quite prepared for.
We're never this far away from anyone at any point in the film. It reinforces the idea that Atticus is very much alone in his plight, possibly completely alone in his principles and how he sees the world. He's talking to Tom, his black client accused of rape, in jail, after an angry white mob attempted to take justice into their own hands (only to be saved by Atticus's own daughter). He's telling Tom that he will be alright, that they won't come after him again. That's not exactly true - Bob Ewell will come for Tom at the trial, as will the jury. Throughout all of it, Atticus stands tall, but he also stands alone, guided by the shining light of justice. He may be right, but it's still a lonely place to be.
* * *
I'd also like to talk about Roman Holiday a little, since Nathaniel wanted us to choose one and I missed the last two episodes of Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Plus, I really like Roman Holiday. It's not great, but it is charming beyond measure and pretty much a joy to watch. I mean, it's not every day you get to watch a STAR just blossom before you as fully as Audrey Hepburn does here. She's maybe not entirely deserving of the Oscar she won - she's VERY green and it often shows quite badly - but it's impossible to deny her presence, and when she lets loose one of those gorgeous smiles it's as if the sun is shining right on you; she makes you feel as though this smile is something special, that you have earned it somehow, and that she's smiling at you, only you. Which is perfect, since she's playing a princess.
But when I think of Roman Holiday, there's only one shot that I stands out for me as "best". It's true that the film gets lots of mileage out of its location shooting in Rome, but despite all the lovely architecture there simply aren't many shots that capture my imagination - and choosing one of Audrey smiling is just cheating; anyone could shoot that and make it look great.
No, the best shot of Roman Holiday is by far its very last one:
I have mentioned before that I am a hopeless romantic, and professed my love for a very specific type of romantic film - one about love that burns bright for a very short amount of time but cannot, must not, last. Roman Holiday is one of the ones that ends without the leads ending up together, and director William Wyler knows exactly how to make that ending work. After all the rest of the journalists leave, let Gregory Peck stay behind. Give one shot of him dwarfed by the palatial room, one shot/reverse shot of him watching where the Princess has just exited, and then, tracking shot of him walking out. All the way. Don't cut away, don't look anywhere else, just watch him leave. It's suspenseful even though we know she's not coming. It's impossible to look away from. It's the best possible way to end the film - in the sure, steady hands of Gregory Peck.