Today in honor of Gregory Peck’s 100th birthday, I’m going to talk a bit about his two most well-known films, To Kill a Mockingbird and Roman Holiday. In doing so, I’m participating in the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series at The Film Experience for the first time! It’s a series I enjoy reading but never had the time to participate in, so I’m happy to join in on the fun for this special occasion. You can read a little more about the series here, which includes the rest of the month’s schedule.
ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953)
Directed by William Wyler
Cinematography by Franz Planer and Henri Alekan
This is the third time Princess Ann is shown in front of a mirror at this point in the movie. The first time we see her and a mirror is when she’s dancing at a ball at the beginning of the movie, though she’s not looking at herself at all. The second time is when she happens upon a hall of mirrors as she makes her escape from the palace, only briefly looking at herself before she leaves. But here, as she’s wandering around Rome, the mirror in the window captures her attention, and she really looks at her reflection. It’s here that she makes a decision for herself in regards to her appearance. Soon after when she gets her haircut, there’s a shot of her joyfully admiring her new look, but this time we don’t see her expression through a mirror.
One of Roman Holiday‘s best aspects is its on-location photography in Rome. Even in black-and-white, the Eternal City looks beautiful and conjures up my wanderlust. My favorite of the Roman locations in the film is The Spanish Steps, and Ann’s expression in this shot is practically a picture of me basking in the film’s images. Here she’s enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures, eating an ice cream cone on a warm day, something she probably doesn’t get to do very often as a royal. If I were picking a shot that best captures the film’s title, this would have been it.
Going into my re-watch for this post, I had a feeling that my best shot would come from the Mouth of Truth scene. It perfectly encapsulates the film, as both Princess Ann and Joe Bradley aren’t telling each other their true identities. As Joe says in the scene, the marble face supposedly bites off the hands of liars, which doesn’t bode well for both characters if it were a true lie detector. After Ann attempts to put her hand in the mouth, she tells Joe to try it first. As Joe slowly puts his hand in the mouth, a smile begins to grow on his face because he knows what’s going to happen next while Ann does not. This mirrors how Joe knows more about Ann than she realizes, while Ann is only aware of her own lies. The gag in this scene was a real one made by Gregory Peck to scare Audrey Hepburn into thinking he really lost his hand for a hot second, but it works impeccably well in the film’s context.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Cinematography by Russell Harlan
The first shot comes at the beginning of the movie, where not much has happened, while the other shot comes from the last scene. Both images work as perfect bookends to the film as the curtains can symbolize Scout’s growth throughout the film. The curtains obstruct us from properly seeing Scout and Atticus in the first shot, similar to how Scout’s childhood innocence veils the way she experiences things. The movie ends with Atticus comforting Scout after a traumatic experience as they watch over an injured Jem. As we view them through the window, the curtains are drawn and we have a clearer picture of them, though the window panes still block us. Scout now has a better understanding of the world as the film comes to a close, but she still has more to learn as time goes on.
To Kill a Mockingbird is told from a child’s perspective, though we may catch onto what’s going on more than Scout. In this scene, Atticus guards Tom Robinson against a possible lynch mob, who show up at this moment. The shot is essentially from the point of view of Scout, Jem, and Dill, who are hiding in the bushes across the street, and it’s representative of how much Scout looks up to her father. Here Atticus is practically placed on a pedestal as he sits at the top of the steps, with the lamp beside him serving as a spotlight.
To me, this shot perfectly captures the characters of Jem and Scout as well as their relationship. As the older of the two, Jem is more aware of his surroundings and has a better grasp of the film’s events. He experiences a lot of things first hand while Scout either doesn’t see what’s happening or is simply not around. In this scene where the children are attacked, Scout’s costume protects her from harm but hinders her vision. Throughout the film, both Atticus and Jem try their best to shield Scout from the evil in their town. But like her costume, their protection restricts her from fully comprehending what’s going on around her. It isn’t until she’s able to shed off her costume that she finds out about Boo’s true character, learning the truth on her own instead of relying purely on what is said about him.
Be sure to check out what others have chosen as their best shot from Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird here!