Friday, February 3, 2012

Mockingbird Film at Fifty

If you read the book then the film follows. I always felt the book was better. To Kill A Mockingbird was just so rich in atmosphere and literary sugar that the film always seemed a bit awkward to me. Maybe it is hard for Hollywood to hit the mark on Southern stories. There is Gone with The Wind and then there is what...Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...or Mississippi Burning...but Mockingbird is Gregory Peck. No doubt. Atticus Finch became him or he became Atticus Finch. But once you saw the movie you were stuck with Gregory Peck in your head.

Scout always seemed a little tougher than the girl in the movie. Jem probably was right. Dill was Truman Capote...good luck with that one. Boo Radley was Robert Duvall. He was awful good looking for Boo but he did seem deranged. But the set never seemed to do the book justice. It just didn't conjure up that small Alabama town in the Depression. And again the novel exists apart in time so Hollywood can only do what it can with lights and sets and actors.

Of course the story set the bar. After Mockingbird there followed a whole rash of bad Southern sheriffs in small towns picking on African Americans and Northerner's. And lots of courtroom scenes in hot stuffy Southern towns. Well it's a great motif and in Mockingbird the blend of a child narrator and the adult story is dead on perfect. There would follow many child narrators set in Southern towns as well (see Tobacco Sticks) But there I go talking about the book again.

I am glad there is a Mockingbird film and I am glad there was a novel. When I tried to get Harper Lee to review my novel Tobacco Sticks, I spoke with a man Roy who said he put the book on her nightstand. She never read it. I am glad. There is really only one Southern novel of racial injustice that is resolved by a man of conscience. And only one film.

Tobacco Sticks... Explosive racial tension  and a dramatic denouement in a sweaty Virginia courtroom are entwined in this haunting tale, which has all the characteristics of a good summer read. Publishers Weekly

Books by William Hazelgrove