Saturday, August 26, 2006

Mary Badham in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

I approached "To Kill a Mockingbird" with some reservations, remembering a certain self-congratulatory tone. And I'm no Peck fan. But the film stands up well. Beautifully photographed (talk about astute and creative use of the backlot!), with justly admired music, the film does capture a mood of nostalgic yearning and a real sense of the redemptive power of goodness. Mary Badham isn't as accomplished as her screen brother Philip Alford. But it's generally Badham who's remembered. Partly, of course, because the script favours Scout's viewpoint. As long as the actress playing her doesn't totally screw up, she's likely to be the focus of audience interest and sympathy. And Badham doesn't screw up. Not at all. She's natural, appealing and occasionally inspired (the scene with Atticus' watch). In terms of appearance and mannerisms, she's an amalgam of Daisy Clover and Tatum O'Neal in "Paper Moon". But it's important to note she predated both. I can easily imagine a 70's TV remake where Jodie Foster would have pushed too hard, been too butch and played with a calculated naturalness far less effective than Badham's authentic underplaying. I'm still no Peck fan. His performance is upright and sincere but insufficiently Southern. But the man's intrinsic goodness registers strongly and it's so appropriate for the piece that it simply outweighs his limitations. No reservations about Mary Badham though.She's an asset pure and simple,justifying her (very popular) nomination with an affecting performance that makes a good film even better.

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