WHO THE HELL IS ROBERT MULLIGAN?
and why should I care?
If Norman Rockwell made movies instead of painted, his name would be Robert Mulligan. Rockwell captured and froze moments in time from our collective past and made them come alive, with the spirit of the people he painted. He was a master. So was Robert Mulligan. I cannot think of another filmmaker, who captured that iconic feel of our youth and history better than Mulligan in many of his films…nobody. I can distinctly remember watching one of his great films as a young teenager on a warm, breezy, perfect summer night thinking "Boy.....this is so right."
Young love, the comfort of parents, small town America, the hum of noise from home just before bedtime in a houseful of family members settling in for a night’s sleep; these are all trademarks. Sadness was also there; a constant reminder of how fate and tragedy is not far from us when we least expect it.
How about a black man wrongly accused of raping a neighbor’s daughter in the rural south?
How about teenage boys spending one memorable summer on a New England Island during World War II and coming of age sexually?
How about some rather close twins who are up to no good on a family farm in a nostalgic Connecticut?
How about a couple of sisters in a close nit southern family in Louisiana in the 50’s, having a romantic tug of war with the new boy who works the farm that her parents divorced friend lives at; complete with late warm summer night visits to go swimming? Still can't guess?
To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird is a great American Novel and a classic film with a performance by (Gregory Peck), that he was born to play. In the movie, he is Atticus Finch, a lawyer from a small southern racially charged town in the 30's who chooses to defend a black man wrongly accused of raping a young woman. Peck’s sensitive portrayal of a widowed father of two children: Scout (Mary Badham), and Jem (Phillip Alford),was perfectly played by Peck.He is a man of great restraint, dignity, and manners who is truly trying to do the right thing in his work and for his children minus their deceased mother. It is a beautiful idealistic character.
Narrated by the main character of Scout, reflecting of her times as a young girl growing up in a town that didn't offer a heck of a lot; where kids ran through back yards on long summer nights exploring and investigating the rumors of the town through the mystery of the night.Scout and Jem team up with the neighbor’s nephew Dill who comes in the summer to join them on their journey. They spy next door on the Radleys who’s son Boo, apparently never comes out of the house and tall tales of what he does cooped up and how he does things in the middle of the night, fill the kids minds with terrible thoughts. This is how a kid’s mind works, and Mulligan captures this with such a keen eye. I love the score by Elmer Bernstein; especially on the opening credits which show the contents of a box of presents. The trial scenes are intense and the testimony of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters),tears at you because it is so cruel, unfair and you know what is coming. Social injustice, growing children learning right from wrong, the unintended damage of rumors and prejudices, all clashing with the all too real faults of adults make this a film that should be viewed again and again over your years.
Mulligan set a tone here that would be carried into future films. A Great American movie.
The Summer of 42
The Summer of 42 tells the story of a teenage boy and his friends during a summer spent on an island during the heart of World War II and their rather awkward journey into sexual awakening. Once again Mulligan’s film begins with a beautiful score by Michel Legrand that is somber and reflective in tone. It sets the feel of Mulligan’s perfect postcard of Idyllic youth wonderfully. I don’t know of many teenage boys who wouldn’t have the hots for the lovely and pure Jennifer O’Neil as the object of the main character Hermie‘s ( Gary grimes) attention. Once again, Mulligan shows how in touch he is with that Rockwell like ability to make us all recall of summer’s past and when things were simpler and love and longing were everything.
The Man in the Moon
Watching Reese Witherspoon's debut in this lovely tale set in Louisiana during the 50's is such a joy. Here is this beautiful little girl who is so natural in her performance, you just knew that this was a star in the making even with her first film. Witherspoon plays Dani Trant, a young girl in her early teens who lives with her older beautiful sister Maureen (Emily Warfield), and her folks Matt and Abigail (Sam Waterston and Tess Harper), who work on a farm,(yes, again).These are good hard working people and mom is expecting again. The sisters sleep on the front screened in porch on the hot summer nights and talk of their hopes and dreams. Sometimes they talk of boys, of which Dani, a bit of a tomboy, knows not much about. Maureen is very popular with the boys.They are sisters and they love each other, but they are also not above trying to one up each other. Into this mix comes new neighbors, a divoreced women who is old friends with Matt and Abigail who have three boys. Two are young twins and and their oldest Court ( Jason London), becomes the apple of young Dani's eye.
Eventually Court, who is a bit older than Dani,notices Maureen and the inevitable triangle begins.This is a touching period tale about young love and how earth shattering it is when the heartache comes.Not without a major event that changes things forever, The Man in the Moon was Mulligan's last film and it is a fitting bookend to this filmmaker's body of work.His feel for a time,setting,mood, and ability to tell story's with wonderful performances, truly puts him in a special category of filmmakers. You should see these films again.