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Posts Tagged ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Independence Day: Characters Count

The fourth of July has become somewhat of a bittersweet holiday for me, as of late. Although the birth of our nation was founded on inclusive, democratic ideals, the current climate of the American political system can be, well, downright depressing. Although I want to show patriotism for my country on the day of its birth, how can I celebrate the spirit of America when those in the public sphere are not exhibiting it? Well, I’ll tell you how: through the movies.  Yes, there are certain classic film characters that have stuck out in my mind as embodying the true sprit of America. Armed with integrity, a strong sense of democracy and a tenacious, spunky attitude, the following three classic movie characters all represent the best this young nation has to offer.

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James Stewart as Jefferson Smith from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:
American Integrity

At the start of the film, to call Jefferson Smith naive, is to call the kettle black. Of course he’s naive — that’s why he was chosen, so to speak. He so genuinely believed in the American Spirit, in the American Way, that it never even crossed his mind that the government, let alone a trusted friend and politician, could be rife with greed and corruption. His disillusion is something, in my opinion, that every observant, patriotic American citizen will one day endure. I only hope that we can all endure it with the same dignity and integrity as Jefferson Smith.

Much like the forefathers of the United States, Jefferson would not sit idly by and watch as corruption and lies ruled the American (or in the forefathers’ case, Colonial) landscape. To be honest and loyal to the people of a government — and not simply to the government itself — was of the upmost importance. So what did Mr. Smith do? Well, he fought for what he thought was right. He stood up to the government in its own building, surrounded by those whose biggest wish was to see him fail, and through the discourse of the American Spirit, reminded the most corrupt of the American people (the politicians), the meaning of what it is to be American.

“There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And, uh, if that’s what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we’d better get those boys’ camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”

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Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird:
American Ethics

To me, Atticus Finch (just like Gregory Peck) is seemingly too perfect to be true. Intelligent, compassionate, and oh-so gosh darned good looking, I can only wish a man that perfect, that dignified, could really exist. But, as of now, I am willing to accept him for what he is: a representation of American Ethics.

What always stuck out to me about Atticus was, not simply the fact that he was willing to defend Tom Robinson, but rather, what the trial meant to him. The trial was not simply a job; the fate of single man in a racist, small town. For Atticus, the case represented something more. He was not just fighting for the innocence of an individual; he was battling the precedent of an unfair, unjust legal system. He was fighting for the American people and arguing for the responsibility each American has for his fellow man. And even if the battle was uphill, even if failure was imminent, and we all know it was, that was not the point. The point was to do what was right; to work towards equality and democracy even if the outcome is already prescribed.

“In our courts, all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system – that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality! Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review, without passion, the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of GOD, do your duty.”

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Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday:
American Tenacity

Stubborn, crass, with a great capacity for learning, Billie Dawn’s narrative arch is not unlike that of the United States. Kept as a prize by a larger domineering entity, the only thing the United States and Billie Dawn needed was a little education and a little push to break away from their oppressors.

The reason I chose Billie Dawn to represent American Tenacity, as opposed to another, how shall we say, more couth character, is because America isn’t always very couth — and I don’t consider that a bad thing. Billie is rough, Billie is tough, but most of all, when given a fair chance, Billie is smart. Her hard edge and simple disposition may fool those around her, but deep down, Billie is as capable of learning the highest concept of the American Ideals as any Harvard Graduate. And once she became aware of her own power, nothing could stop her.

“Because when ya steal from the government, you’re stealing from yourself, ya dumb ass.”

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Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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In Celebration of Father’s Day, what we love about our Dads! 

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Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Classic Movie, Robert Mulligan

For being a role model of integrity: Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch (with Mary Badham as daughter Scout) in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, directed by Robert Mulligan).

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Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride, Classic Movie, Vincente Minnelli

For being ever-patient and understanding: Spencer Tracy as Stanley T. Banks (with Elizabeth Taylor as his daughter Kay) in Father of the Bride (1950, directed by Vincente Minnelli).

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Leon Ames in Meet Me in St. Louis, Classic Movie, Vincente Minnelli

For being self-sacrificing: Leon Ames as Mr. Alonzo Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis — when he realizes that moving to New York for a better job will be devastating to  his family (1944, directed by Vincente Minnelli).

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Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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7. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Other Nominated Films:
The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, To Kill a Mockingbird

Before I go on to talk about this film, I would just like to say one thing: David Lean is one of the finest directors of all time. Lean doesn’t have just one film in my Top 10, but two, one of which is ranked in my Top 5. Lawrence of Arabia is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made, and if that isn’t enough, it also revealed the greatness of actor Peter O’Toole to the world. The film opens with the death of Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) by a motorcycle accident. At his memorial service, reporters try to better understand who this remarkable and complicated man really was. From here, we flashback into the life of Lawrence and where his military career begins…Lawrence is a British Army lieutenant stationed in Cairo during World War I. Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau (Claude Rains) sends Lawrence to evaluate the progress of Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) in his revolt against the Turks. The journey is not an easy one but I won’t go into detail here so that you can see it for yourself — but I’ll continue talking about what happens next…At the end of this journey, Lawrence meets Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle), who tells him to be quiet, assess Faisal’s camp, and leave at once. Lawrence instead ignores Brighton’s orders and advises Faisal to attack Aqaba — and thus begins Lawrence’s exploits as he leads the Arab revolt against the Turks. Again, I don’t want to ruin the movie for you by going into any great detail here, but suffice to say that Lawrence uses guerilla warfare tactics and performs heroic feats but also experiences emotional struggles with acts of violence and his personal identityLawrence of Arabia was a huge success both critically and financially, and is still popular among viewers today. Critics have repeatedly cited the film’s impressive visuals, music and screenplay, as well as the magnificent performance of Peter O’Toole. O’Toole was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, but would wind up losing to Gregory Peck who played Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (which is also one of the best films in the history of cinema). It’s interesting to compare O’Toole’s performance as Lawrence and Peck’s performance as Finch since they’re both ranked on the American Film Institute’s 100 Heroes and Villains list; O’Toole would be ranked as the 10th Hero, while Peck would be ranked as the #1 Hero. Both excellent performances; both iconic roles; and yet both very different types of heroes.  Lawrence of Arabia would be producer Sam Spiegel’s third Academy Award for Best Picture (the first two are #4 and #2 on this list),and David Lean’s second Academy Award for Best Director (the other being #4 on this list). O’Toole would go on to be nominated for another seven Academy Awards, but would not win any – however he was the recipient of an Honorary Academy Award for his remarkable talents that “provided cinema with some of its most memorable characters.

Nominated for 10 Oscars, Winner of 7
Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Color – John Box, John Stoll, Dario Simoni (WON)
Best Cinematography, Color – Freddie Young (WON)
Best Director – David Lean (WON)
Best Film Editing – Anne V. Coates (WON)
Best Music, Score – Substantially Original – Maurice Jarre (WON)
Best Picture – Sam Spiegel (WON)
Best Sound – John Cox (Shepperton SSD) (WON)
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Peter O’Toole
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Omar Sharif
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium – Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson

Prince Feisal: But you know, Lieutenant, in the Arab city of Cordoba were two miles of public lighting in the streets when London was a village?
T.E. Lawrence: Yes, you were great.
Prince Feisal: Nine centuries ago.
T.E. Lawrence: Time to be great again, my lord.

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