In 1960, when TIME reviewed Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—the author’s only novel before the recently unearthed and just-published Go Set a Watchman—the piece was headlined “About Life & Little Girls.” It was a nod to the novel’s central theme: the moral awakening of 5-year-old Scout Finch.
(Read TIME’s full review of the book here)
So it should come as no surprise that when the film adaptation opened in early 1963, praise landed squarely on the shoulders of young Mary Badham, who played the young protagonist. “Mary Badham and Phillip Alford [as Jem Finch], a couple of nice kids the producer found in Birmingham, don’t have to act right—they just are right,” TIME reported. “Mary, in fact, provides the best bit in the picture.”
As for Gregory Peck, whose performance as Atticus would go down as one of the great turns in Hollywood history, he was deemed “generally excellent” though he “lays it on a bit thick at times.” Despite some heavy-handedness, TIME felt the movie was clearly destined for greatness:
Read the full movie review, here in the TIME Vault: Boo Radley Comes Out