To Kill a Mockingbird."
I'm sure you already know the story. If you have been in grade school since the novel's release, then it's a given. It's the coming-of-age story of Scout, a young girl growing up in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. As the summers and falls pass, she begins to see the true harshness that can be found in the world, yet all the time she finds protection in the arms of her loving father Atticus. Universal Pictures released the film adaptation of Lee's classic book in 1962. The first film by the new production team Pakula-Mulligan, it stars Peck in the role of Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout. It was an instant success, and won three out of its eight Oscar nominations, the biggest being Peck's win for Best Actor.
I remember the first time I saw this film. It was in grade school, after reading the book. I was already a fan of Gregory Peck's but this solidified it for me. I could see the truth in his eyes. The loving father was there in every step. I think it was the first time I ever really notice how a good actor can truly embody a character fully. It's the same strength I saw in Peck in "Cape Fear" (one of the few scary films I like), that true sense of love and protection for children that are not his own. This film made me love acting.
The Miracle Worker."
And, of course, let us not forget the other film debut in the bunch - Robert Duvall as Boo Radley. "Mockingbird" screenwriter Horton Foote had recommended Duvall to Pakula himself. Duvall had starred in a production of Foote's play "The Midnight Caller" in New York in 1957. To prepare for this role, Duvall stayed out of the sun six weeks and bleached his hair.
(Post-tidbit: The famous courthouse set in "Mockingbird" was modeled exactly after the courthouse in Lee's hometown of Monroeville. It is now a museum dedicated to the book, film and Lee. You can also see a great play adaptation of "Mockingbird" there, performed in the courthouse and on the surrounding grounds by the townsfolk.)