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True to the novel, the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird has excellent casting as certainly Gregory Peck was the right pick for the liberal-minded Atticus Finch. His seersucker suit is absolutely the appropriate costuming for him as a man of his social class--a gentleman of the South. In the 1930s, a lawyer would be certainly attired in a suit at almost all times, and seersucker would be the only tolerable material in the heat of southern Alabama. Likewise, the Reverend Sykes, as leader of the black community, is fitted in a suit. It is dark because it would be presumptuous of him to wear what the white man wears. The gingham dresses of the women are also typical of attire worn in the 1930s.
That Heck Tate and other men open their collars or roll up their sleeves indicates that their social class is lower than that of Atticus; for, in the South, no gentleman rolls his sleeves in public or in the presence of ladies. (Remember how shocked Scout and Jem are when Atticus unbottons his vest; she says it is equivalent to his undressing.) The overalls worn by Tom Robinson are consistent, too, with what many Southern black men wore; however, his personal modesty and pride are indicated in his having a neat collared shirt. Tom wears the best that he owns, probably.
In contrast to expectations of what a girl would wear, Scout is attired in overalls as she is in the novel. Scout's not wearing a dress as every other girl in town probably does indicates Atticus's lenient attitude about some traditional habits. He feels that it is more important for Scout to express her individuality while she is a child; after all, later on Scout can wear dresses. Of course, the very class-conscious Alexandra, dressed at all times herself, does not approve of Scout's overalls.
Bob Ewell's rather slovenly appearance is in contrast to that of Tom Robinson. Ewell's shirt is wrinkled and his overalls worn, while Tom's are dark blue and new with a new, ironed shirt. While the old saying, "The clothes make the man" holds true in the costuming of the flim version of To Kill a Mockingbird; the clothes also indicate the man.
Though the movie is in black and white and most of my classes initially respond with a groan, the movie is done so wonderfully that I really do think in many ways it gives great insight into the story. Not only do the actors who play the characters seem to fit almost perfectly, their clothes say much about them as well. I don't believe there is an English teacher on Earth who can read and teach about Atticus Finch without a picture of the light 3-piece suit, pocket watch, and black rimmed glasses of Gregory Peck.
Mayella Ewell is another character whose clothes and hair particularly make her part. I love the scene that shows her pigeon-toed feet looking particularly uncomfortable in shoes and socks which slouch because they are likely old and stretched out. Her hair is clearly dirty and messy, but provides the exact coverage over her eyes that she needs for emotional protection.
Tom Robinson in overalls portrays a worker who is poor but not destitute. He has cleaned up his face and hands for his court appearance, but even in black and white you can tell he's wearing work clothes.
My absolute favorite character costume, however, has got to be the first costume we see on Dill. The scene is unforgettable. There are Scout and Jem (both dressed like boys, both dirty, both in play clothes), and little Charles Baker Harris from over the fence, with hair slicked down and dressed in a starched white button-up shirt and pleated shorts. Every time I've played this movie the class laughs at Dill's first appearance (which you will notice, changes over the course of the movie to match the clothes of Jem and Scout). I think this is the most appropriate reaction because as an audience, we are probably feeling the same feelings that Scout had when she first met Dill.
The movie does the book justice in so many ways, it is hard to say (as with so many other books) that the book is far better, in my opinion. Of course the book is better. It is literature. But as far as movies based on books go, I think To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best.
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