Written by / 3/10/2016 / No comments / , , , ,

ALL THE FUSS ABOUT MOCKINGBIRD

 Mary Badham struggles with hard times and mean people with father/lawyer/mentor Gregory Peck
It's a falsehood what they say about birds. A falsity. What's the right word, Norman? Anyhow, we're not talking stuffed motel birds or real sky birds, but one in particular. Mockingbirds, that's it. And as we learn from one of many lectures, they don't hurt anybody, true; yet those suckers can keep you awake all night.

A Badham Breakfast
Now of course we're not speaking symbolically, like this, yet another arguable classic that, ironically, Philip Seymour Hoffman's CAPOTE said in his Oscar Winning role during a scene where his assistant turned overnight sensation, author Harper Lee, was enjoying a Manhattan Opening Night screening of her best selling, ground-breaking novel's transition onto the big screen, that being TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD... It's a wonderful actor's actor moment for Hoffman, amongst many... When he waves at Lee when she acknowledges him within the bustling crowd, and then turns with his drink, alone, and basically mutters about how he just doesn't "see what all the fuss is about." Well Cult Film Freak agrees despite being no Truman Capote, Harper Lee, or Kathleen Keener; the latter who's just so damn natural in her Lee role that it's completely forgettable: and what the statue-yearning DiCaprio's of Hollywood don't realize... the truly best performances are so incredible, you don't even consider them anything but... part of the damn movie.

Don't Get The Fuss
No matter how he felt about his best friend's one hit wonder (until the recent almost-posthumous GO SET A WATCHMAN), the BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S famous Truman Capote and scriptwriter of the Huston/Bogart Noir comedy BEAT THE DEVIL, at the time while in the midst of suffering through his five-year exertion inside a Kansas Death Row (going back and forth to Kansas, and overseas), was in a beyond-arduous process interviewing two inmates while really centering on one man for his upcoming novel IN COLD BLOOD that would, in fact, become an even better film, as yours truly argued for ten minutes with a college teacher, in class: that the movie centered on everyone as an equal while the novel makes the main killer, trigger-finger Perry Smith, into somewhat of an urban folk hero while the slain family seem like Christian cardboard cutouts, and we constantly learn about how the "rich" patriarch was truly disliked around town, by the residents and workers. Well, thank God the for the magic of violently tragic cinema, because while Capote's novel IN COLD BLOOD is beautifully written as his poetic words flow like ice skating, as Charles Bukowski once wrote (followed, of course, by an insult)... There's just no beating that 1967 motion picture brilliantly directed and written for the screen by Richard Brooks and starring Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, Jeff Corey, Charles McGraw, Will Geer and John Forsythe... A motion picture that allows the viewer to sympathize with the character's, especially Blake's Perry Smith (the words IN COLD BLOOD appearing at the very end while he's hanging from a noose is more than coincidence); but unlike what the author might have done, we the audience don't fall head over heels in love with his mediocre, poetry-writing criminal.

Mary Badham press photo
Hoffman's characterization of (and in) CAPOTE is right on the money while this movie, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, is just not that great, and yet, still remains a book every student is forced into reading while perhaps there's too much fuss, overall, on the page or on screen. And yet, having never read the novel there's a whole lot missing in this write-up, which shouldn't be taken very seriously for that reason alone. But there are good parts on screen: the kids in the small town, two children of idealistic lawyer Atticus Finch; those being Mary Badham as the always-contemplating Scout; brother Phillip Alford as Nathan Finch, who really has the guts to adventurously seek things out, especially the home of a mysterious character Boo Radley (played by a young, unknown Robert Duvall, more anticipated than THE THIRD MAN himself); and the young, quirky, neurotic and talkative neighbor, played by John Megna: sort of the Ferris Bueller of his day... and he's very off, providing the only comic relief herein.

A toothy John Menga with Mary Badham
The problem with MOCKINGBIRD is the eventual courtroom scenes taking over, and for much too long, making the kids peripheral witnesses. Yes, it is intended to be a Courtroom Drama, but scenes on the outside really stand out as being much better written and performed, and are simply more entertaining. And it's a wonder that Peck won best actor over the much better Mary Badham, who was a better leading actress (not supporting actress, like they made Tatum O'Neal in PAPER MOON when she really starred in the movie) than Peck is a leading actor. He's pretty dull here, for the most part, going through the motions, partaking in his usual deep-voiced, heavy-handed style, and doesn't make the screen explode or anything of that nature...

Let's run... no, swim away, forever
Just like how a more powerful actor like, merely for an example, an Orson Welles type should have played Ahab in MOBY DICK ten years earlier, there's another movie, based on the Leopold/Loeb murders, titled COMPULSION, where the "good violent parts" (with young, rich, curious killers Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell) lead to a long courtroom lecture where Orson Welles actually helps the movie grow (and mind you, Welles had grown-out so much we are NOT saying he should have played Peck's part, in any way), yet here, the gavel pounds lightly despite the truly important message for that and any time: that racism sucks. But at this point, TO KILL is simply, as a movie, just okay for it's time, and, unlike COMPULSION or IN COLD BLOOD, doesn't stand up too well. So we'll have to agree with Philip's Capote, who wasn't even as nice as we are about the much-adored melodrama. But he told the truth, drunkenly, and quietly, in his own way... if that moment, neither witnessed or overheard by anyone, even happened in the first place. And after the real Harper Lee watched the Richard Brooks adaptation of her former boss's novel, you can bet she was, like everyone else, simply blown away.

Menga in Bandit 2
MOCKINGBIRD RATING: **1/2
CAPOTE RATING: ****1/2
COLD BLOOD RATING: *****
AN ECLECTIC SET OF RANDOM TRIVIA: Robert Blake played killer Perry Smith in IN COLD BLOOD, who was the convict Capote basically centered upon (and possibly fell in love with) yet in COLD BLOOD, there's no flamboyant Capote, which would not have fit and he'd get in the way; instead, CITIZEN KANE and KISS ME DEADLY actor Paul Stewart plays the role of a very standard journalist.

Where the Hell is Willy Boy???
And later, in 1965, Robert Blake appears with MOCKINGBIRD child-actor Mary Badham in THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, which starred Robert Redford and Natalie Wood; meanwhile, Blake had a bigger, title role in TELL THEM WILLY BOY IS HERE but alas, he still isn't in the movie enough compared to the blond male sex symbol actor, Redford, obviously sought after more at that time... by the bee-hive housewives, preferring Sundance over Perry Smith. Also concerning Mary Badham: she starred in the very last episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE: The one where the two kids, sick and tired of their parents arguing, find a hole at the bottom of a swimming pool and wind up in an idyllic river world that resembles something out of Mark Twain. And John Menga, the third kid in MOCKINGBIRD, was half-brother of Connie Stevens, and appeared in several Burt Reynold's road flicks: the first to ride with Bert Convy on a stunt bike in THE CANNONBALL RUN and the "wife" of a gay Jackie Gleason (one of Sheriff Justice's several brothers) in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II • And Orson Welles was in fact present as the preacher in John Huston's MOBY DICK, and was so into working on the movie, he made a play about the actor's rehearsing.
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