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To Kill a Mockingbird

Another in the long - very long - series of books I should have read in high school. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is Harper Lees only book and it is a wonderful study in class, race, southern life, conscience and the loss of innocence. It is the story of brother and sister Jem and Scout finch growing up in rural Alabama in the 1930's. Their childhood world of summer games of hide and seek is rocked when their father, attorney Atticus Finch, defends a black man against charges of rape. The case and the resulting violence teach the entire town a lesson in true heroism. Lee loves all her characters - even the bad ones - and the result is a book that never condescends, never excuses, and never makes fun of, it simply unfolds with a tenderness and ease that is truly beautiful. As a result the reader cares about everyone in the book; the reader laughs and cries because he has an intimacy with the people. The book was recently voted the best novel of the 20th century by librarians from across the country. I might reserve that distinction for Ernest Gaines "A Lesson Before Dying," but that is neither here nor there. This is a wonderful book that everyone should read.

Chato’s Land (1971)
 Buy It

“Back off White man!” You gotta love a film when these are the only lines the star speaks. Charles Bronson plays Chato, an Apache horse trader who guns down a deputy sheriff in a bar (right after telling him to back off) and then goes on the run. It is never clear why Chato is in a bar where he knows he will not be served and why he doesn’t leave when it is clear there will be trouble. But does it matter? All the man wanted was a drink and he was harassed by a “racist pig,” (the deputy calls Bronson a “Red Nigger” right before his guts are splattered all over the bar). This 1972 film directed by Michael Winner is a study on the corrupting effects of race hatred. Following the shooting Chato takes off into the desert followed by a posse led by a civil war veteran looking to relive the good old days played by Jack Palance. When the white men find Chato’s home and rape his wife the tables turn and the hunted becomes the hunter. There are plenty of “that doesn’t make any sense” moments such as when the posse is drinking coffee when they are complaining that they are out of water, but by and large this is an okay film. Bronson gives a fine performance in spite of his sparse dialogue and there is terrific ensemble work among the members of the posse, which include Ralph Waite, James Whitmore and Victor French among others. This is one of my favorite Bronson Westerns. 3 ˝ stars on Netflix.

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Joseph C. Phillips is an actor and writer living in Hollywood, California. He is perhaps best known as one of the stars of The Cosby Show. He was also a three-time NAACP award nominee for his role as attorney Justus Ward on the daytime drama General Hospital and was the mayor on The District.  Mr. Phillips has had essays published in Essence magazine, USA today and the College Digest among others.