I'm guessing you've seen the film. We saw it in class in high school, and I'm guessing you did too. If you haven't, read what I have to say below, then go watch it.
I would consider Robert Mulligan's 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird to be one of the seminal American movies. In addition to being a commentary on race, a subtle look small town groupthink, and a treatise on the importance of parenthood, it also happens to be impeccably filmed and acted. As Atticus Finch, the stalwart and stentorian attorney who defends an Alabama black man (Brock Peters) against accusations of rape by a wealthy local white woman (Collin Wilcox), Gregory Peck cemented his legacy as one of film's biggest stars. Atticus Finch is a saintly man with an infinite amount of patience, wisdom, and stamina in the face of an untiring and aggressively racist township. Peck manages to bring all the gentleness and all of the thick-skinned experience to Atticus Finch that Harper Lee wrote in her original 1960 novel.
The main character of the story, though, is Finch's feisty tomboy daughter Scout (played in the movie by Mary Badham) who is bright and assertive, and seems to be constantly asking the right questions. She's naïve, sweet and kind of a brat. If Atticus is the father you always wished you'd had, Scout is the daughter. She is the one who learns about racism through her father's trial, and also learns how churlish racism can be.
I always like stories about intelligent people working their hardest to solve complex problems. In a way, Scout is the intelligent (if not innocent) little girl, and the complex problem is the deeply ingrained institutionalized racism of the Deep South in the 1930s. Without facing a crushing scene of dashed hopes and raw exposure to expected sins, Scout merely tries to understand why all this happens. She is idealistic and analytical.
These days To Kill a Mockingbird can seem almost quaint in its view of racism. Many people (famously Roger Ebert) feel that the final notes involving the Bock Peters character are forced and don't feel satisfactory and perhaps spend too much time lionizing the noble white guy than mourning the loss of the innocent victim; there is way too much resignation to the expected and unfortunate fate of the innocent black man. Why, Ebert asked, is Atticus Finch considered the hero in this scenario when Tom Robinson is the one whose life hangs in the balance? Whose fate will be the ultimate thrust of the film? I feel that the resignation in the film only shows how deeply the racist institution runs. How one cannot do much of anything to undo decades of an entire town's hate. Through Tom Robinson's fate, we see the insidious and quiet way fascism works its way into societies. Violence is just part of the world here. Scout sees all this, digests it as best she can, and tries to remain hopeful. That's inspiring.
Today, To Kill a Mockingbird will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a rather impressive new DVD/Blu-Ray release. This film has been impeccably cleaned up and restored several times throughout the years, so the new transfer still looks amazing. The Blu-Ray contains two full-length documentary films; one is a new look at the making of the film (including an analysis of Harper Lee's hometown, which supposedly inspired her book), and the other is a 1999 interview with Gregory Peck, where he reminisces about his long and varied career. In interviews, Peck is a quiet and humble man with a commanding voice and presence. He is so calm and gentle, and he seems almost embarrassed to be interviewed. Peck was a movie star, but he considered himself an actor first.
Also included on the video is a 90-second clip from the 1962 Academy Awards, wherein Peck receives his acting Oscar (from Sofia Loren!), as well as a two 10-minute clips from Peck's AFI tribute show, and an Academy memorial show given by his daughter Cecilia. There is also a rather boring Universal corporate video on how films are restored. I suppose some film history nerds might like this last feature, but otherwise it's a glorified commercial.
I always prefer the commentary tracks that are given by film scholars than the ones given by the actual filmmakers, and while the commentary track by Robert Mulligan,and Alan Pakula, the film's producer, is insightful, I would have liked someone to have given a more insightful analysis of the film's content, and not just told stories from the set. This is, however, a minor quibble. You can just turn off the commentary if need be, and watch the film. By itself, it speaks volumes.
So, yes, do see the film. Read the book, too. It's a gorgeous and emotional look at something difficult to process. It has some truly awesome acting, and one of cinema's most indelible characters.
CraveOnline Rating (Film): 10/10
CraveOnline Rating (Blu-ray): 8.5/10