To Kill a Mockingbird (United States, 1962)


Figure 1.--The filming of the American classic, "To Kill a Mockinbird" provides a look at boys clothing in the South during the 1930s. Scout and her brother Jem wear usually wear overalls, except for school and dressing up. Their friend Dill wears short pants and kneesocks. Scout growing up with an older brother didn't like dresses.

Possibly my all time favorite book and a wonderful movie. The main character are Jem (who wears knickers, including a knicker suit) and his tom-boy sister, Scout--who wears overalls unless she is forced in to a dress. Dill who wears shorts and knee socks, spends the summer with them. The children perform their parts beautifully. Set in a small southern town during the depression. Boys from less well off familes wear bib-front overalls all the time. Even though it is summer, the only boy wearing short pants is Dill. Jim himself wears overalls for play. At school the boys wear knickers ad overalls. Scout, much to her despleasure, has to wear a dress to school. I believe that this is perhaps Gregory Peck's best performance. Peck reportedly had quite a winning way with the children. Within a few days, the little girl would crawl up on his lap like he was her father. The film was based on the best-selling novel by Harper Lee which it closrly followed. Lee was a childhood friend of Truman Capote and the character of Dill was written to protray Capote as a boy. Strangely, this was Lee's only work of any importance. This is an excellent book or film for those wanting to know what the South was like before the Civil Rights movement, although perhaps not conveying the full horror of the system.

Filmology

Possibly my all time favorite book and a wonderful movie. The film was based on the best-selling novel by Harper Lee which it closely followed. This is one of the movies that commonly features on list of the greatest movies.

The Author

Strangely, this was Lee's only work of any importance. You would have thought anyone that could have written such a wonderful book would have authored others. Lee was a childhood friend of Truman Capote and the character of Dill was written to protray Capote as a boy. An online biography of Truman Capote contains this passage, "Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duckfluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. As he told us the old tale his blue eyes would lighten and darken; his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead."

Characters

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a wondrful film on several levels. One of those it is insightful depiction of childhood. The main child characters are the children of Atikus Finch, a small toen lawyer. Jem (who wears overalls and knickers, including a knicker suit) is about 11 years old. His tom-boy younger sister, Scout--who wears overalls all summer until she is forced into a dress for school, is 6 years old. Dill was was visiting his aunt for the summer lived next door to Jem and Scout. He never wears overalls or knickers like Jem, but wears light-colored short pants and dark knee socks. The only boy in the film to do so. The children perform their parts beautifully depicting childhood ethics and innonsence. Their interactions anong themselves and with adults are beautifully done. The story is told through the nariation of an adult Scout so in masy ways the focus is on her.


Figure 2.--All three children play their parts brilliantly. I don't know, however, of any other film they played in.

Cast

"To Kill a Mockingbird" was beautifully casted. I believe that this is perhaps Gregory Peck's best performance. Peck's plays Atticus Fincha, a widower with two children--Scout and Jem. Peck reportedly had quite a winning way with the two children who played the roles. Within a few days, the little girl would crawl up on his lap like he was her father. The children were not well-known child actors. I don't have the details of their background, but this was certainly the first production of any significance. Despite their wonderful performances, I don't recall seeing them in many other films. A HBC reader points out that Phillip Alford (who played Jem) made a few more movies, most noteably Shennendoah with James Stewart. Mary Badham (Scout) was nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Suppporting Actress as a result of her performance in "Mockingbird" but I beleive she lost to Patty Duke, who won for "The Diary of Helen Keller".

Setting

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is set in a small southern (Alabama) town during the Depression. This is an excellent book or film for those wanting to know what the American South was like before the Civil Rights movement, although perhaps not conveying the full horror of the system. The novel is beautifully done. The one aspect it does not show is the extent to which the police in the South were involved in the Klan and a key part in the Jim Crow system of extra-legal terror. The Sheriff in this town is a symathetic character. There mut have been some Alabama sheriffs like him. But there were many more who were actively involved with the Klan and for whom the law was a mere formality. The film was made during the 1960s at the height of Civil Rights movement. The film does show the relations among the town folks nicely. Atikus Finch humors the ekderly neighbor who thinks Scout is too much of a tomboy. And the other way down the street is a scary house with a dark secret. Hoovering over all is both the Depression and the South's segregation system.

Plot

The film depicts the experiences of Scout, the tom-boy daughter, of a small-town Alabama lawyer--Aticus Finch. There is rather a twin plot. The first is the examination of the child hood experience of two children in the South who lived with their widowed father. We see their interactions and coming to terms with life in their small town. Then there is the story of a black man unjustly acused of a crime. Of course the two stories gradually merge. Much of it takes place during the summer. First Dill arrives. Scout and her brother Jem and Dill are fascinated by the house next door where Boo Bradley lives. Boo is a shadowy figure around whom all kinds of tales swirl. Scout has to be careful arund the neighbors, especilly the elderly lady next door. Then Scout begins the First Grade in school. This presents a challenge. First she has to wear a dress. Then even though she already knows how to read, the teacher is determined to teavh her. Then there is the challenge of making friends. Her approach is to beat up Arthur Cunningham. The children's idelic world is contrasted with e on-going rape trial of a black man. Their father is the only lawyer in the county that will take the assignnment to defend the black man. In a Southern courtroom, the defense is hopeless despite the lack of evidence. Aticus' efforts to defend the man, however, puts his daughter in jepordy. Here neither her father or Jem are able to defend her--but Boo does.


Figure 3.--Jem when going to school wears knickers. When dressing up he wears a knickers suit. He was 12-13 years old in the plot. Here he is picking up his sister after the school play. Like all older brothers, he is impatient. Scout can't find her clothes and has to go home in her costume. This sets up the dramatic climatic scene.

Costuming

The costuming for "To Kill a Mockingbird" was very realistic, closely following and doing justice to Harper Lee's beautiful book. Even though it is summer, the only boy wearing short pants is Dill. Southern boys were more likely to wear short pants, but even in the South many boys wore long pants. Dill is costumed in light-blue linnen button-on shorts that Truman Capote remembers wearing as a boy. The book takes place over a span of 2 or 3 years. Scout mentions that when she first met Dill, when he was 7, he wore button-on short pants, but the year after he started wearing regular shorts. Jim himself wears overalls for play. Even boys from realtively well-off families wore overalls for play. In the 30s nib-front overalls were sstill common. By the 40s they were rarely seen except in farming communities. Girls also wore them, but this was most common in poor famlies. Scout is of course a tomboy which is why she wears them. Well off boys had knicker suits and other oitfits for special occassions. Boys from less well off familes wear bib-front overalls all the time. At school the boys wear knickers and overalls. All the girls wear dresses. Scout, much to her despleasure, has to wear a dress to school, and Jem teases her about it. Overalls were commonly worn in the South and in rural America. There were worn by boys from poor families, but in rural areas a lot of boys wore them to school, even if there fathers were propsperous farmers. This only began to change in the 1940s and the coming of World War II. Jem when dressing up wears a knickers suit.

The Media and the Civil Rights Movement

Hollywood after World War II played a very positive tole in the Civil Rights movement. This was not always the case. One od the early American film classics was "Birth of a Nation" (19??). It was crudely racist and idealized the violence of the Klu Klux Klan. Through the 1930s wjile there were some hints at racial justice, Blacks were commonnly depicted in the accepted racial sterotypes of the day. This was not the case for Jews, despite the fact that anti-Semitism until World War II was widespread. This changed after the War. The Holocoaust was such a clear indication of what racism can lead to that American public opinio was affected. Films like the Gentleman's Agreement (1947), "Boy with Green Hair" (1948), and "South Pacific" (19??) began to aggressively address the question of prejudice and anti-Semitism, but did not cross the color bar by overtly making the connection with Blacks. One of the first films to deal squarely with the race issue was "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962). It was followed by "Guess who is Coming to Dinner" (1967). Television was even slower to address the issue. TV news did deal honestly with the news. Reporters at considerable personal risk coverec the viloence directed at Blacks attepting use public accomodations or vote. Very few Blacks appeared on television until the late 1960s.






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Created: January 23, 2002
Last updated: 12:52 AM 3/4/2007