Mary Badham received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as "Scout" Finch in Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird. When I first watched To Kill a Mockingbird it was almost five years ago in my freshman year of high school (yes, I'm a yungin), and I think everybody else in my class had the same reaction to the film as I did: BORING! I now realize that this was probably because we had spent more than a month laboriously going over the book, which wasn't all that bad, but quickly became tedious. We had all the metaphors and symbols and characters drilled into our heads, so the movie just seemed like something we'd seen thousands of times in the last month. So my knee jerk reaction to this movie has always been negative, but this time I came out of the movie having such a great appreciation for it. The film is a classic American movie, that delivers so many memorable and emotionally involving moments. And Mary Badham had something to do with that.
This is only the third year I've covered of the Best Supporting Actress category, and I've already seen a few child performances, and after going into each expecting the performances to be wooden and completely coached, Mary Badham is the first that I really felt the guiding hand of the director or an acting coach inserting themselves into the performance. Throughout the film it is just clear that Mary Badham wasn't a very natural actress, and couldn't really stand up to the high standards that the film demands. Instead, Mary only gets bits and pieces completely right with her overall performances. What she does great is get all the broad strokes correct. She nails the sweet side of scout, as well as the adventurous and rowdy side perfectly. You can tell she is having fun with the playing scenes, whether she is fighting a boy or being rolled down the road in a tire. She delivers her lines with a considerable amount of spunk and attitude, and seems to be having fun doing so.
It's the facial expressions and the quieter moments where her performance completely falls apart. Her chemistry with Gregory Peck is fine enough, at least until they have to have a 'touching moment' and Badham utterly fails to show the complexities of Scout, instead making her a generic young child. Her facial expressions are constantly changing, and you can see Badham over-thinking things and failing to stay in character. She basically has only one facial expressions, where she scrunches up her noise and acts 'grumpy' or 'angry' or 'sad' or 'scared'. She just doesn't have the range or acting experience to make Scout seem like anything other than a normal kid, and not the complex character she was in the novel. She has one or two good moments where she pours on the sweetness and you forget about her limitations, one of them being the confrontation at the jail she manages to as cute as can be.
Then there is another glaring problem with this nomination that has absolutely nothing to do with Mary Badham--she is not at all a supporting character in this movie, and is more of a lead than even Atticus Finch is. Sadly, the Academy and the Oscar campaigners in general like to relegate child performances into the supporting category to get votes they clearly wouldn't have gotten in the lead category (after all, they are only children ;) ). But it just annoys me to no end, as it does many others. That being said, with a supposedly strong Best Actress race this year (Bancroft and Page were both quite good), little Mary Badham didn't quite belong in that category either. When it comes down to it, Mary Badham gives a performance that would be perfectly alright----were it not an Oscar nominated one. But since it is, I have to be critical and say that she fails in every way but in the most general sense. Badham is good as a rowdy youngster, but just not convincing as the central character in one of the most revered American novels of all-time. 3/5 Thelmas.