A southern lawyer defends a black man on a charge of raping a white woman at the height of the Great Depression. This is the synopsis of To Kill a Mockingbird. When Harper Lee published her novel she could not have known the impact it would have on American society. It’s an effort that won her a Pulitzer Prize. Virtually every child has read the book in school. It’s a story that has been the defining statement on racial injustice in America for over half a century. Yet Harper Lee said that she would never write another book again.
It’s been said that Lee’s father was a model for Atticus Finch. She suggested Gregory Peck for the part in the film version because she felt Peck’s appearance closely resembled her father’s. The first scene in the movie shows Finch returning home from the office as his children run to greet him. Lee was on set that day and began to cry. When Peck asked Lee why she was crying she replied,
“You’ve got a round pot belly just like my father.”
“That’s not a pot belly,” Peck said. “That’s acting.”
When you consider these facts while watching Finch’s passionate appeal to the jury….
…It’s electrifying to learn that in Go Set a Watchman–the recently discovered sequel–Finch is revealed to be an ardent, impenitent racist. Is Atticus a fraud? Does this betray the long-valued societal message of ‘Mockingbird’? These are questions to be pondered by critics.
What we do know is that ‘Watchman’ is breaking sales records in its first week of release. According to CBS News it’s the number one book seller so far this year, and is expected to remain so. The sequel has also rekindled interest in the original. ‘Mockingbird’ book sales have reportedly reached no. 3 on Amazon.com. A sequel…that was never meant to be…is a colossal triumph fifty-five years after its forerunner. Whether that’s been done in the literary world before, is debatable. In Cinema, long waits between movies and their sequels is a prevalent occurrence. Though, not necessarily the success part.
Disney is the king at this. They did it with Little Mermaid, Peter Pan and even Cinderella. What tops them all is Bambi. Bambi was released in theaters in 1942. Sixty-four years later Bambi 2 got a straight-to-video release. A gap that big not only tops Disney, it tops all studios as the longest time span between a movie and its sequel.
Speaking of Peter Pan…the earliest recollection of a film version (aside from a 1924 silent film and the animated Disney movie) is the 1960 musical with Mary Martin. Steven Spielberg brought us Hook thirty-one years later. Hook is not so much a sequel as it is an exploration of what might have happened had Peter decided to stay with the Darlings.
The Maltese Falcon was a 1941 Whodunnit? mystery about a quest for a priceless McGuffin. Its success prompted a sequel early on. A script entitled Three Strangers was written. Confusion between the studio and the author about who owned the rights prevented it from ever becoming a sequel. Three Strangers was made into a stand alone movie in 1946. A comedic parody entitled The Black Bird became the sequel in 1975, starring George Segal as the son of Humphrey Bogart’s character.
There’s also The Wizard of Oz, based on the book by L. Frank Baum. In 2013, Oz the Great and Powerful hit theaters. While technically not a sequel, it’s the second successful Oz movie. An animated sequel performed poorly at the box-office in 1974. Then Return to Oz came along in 1985.