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Horton Foote, R.I.P.

By admin Published: March 5, 2009

An obit for the playwright and screenwriter is here. If you're wondering why this matters, I should only have to tell you that he wrote the screenplays for "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Tender Mercies," left, two of my favorite films, and both ones where the terrific main performances -- Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall respectively -- are aided considerably by Foote's knack not only for dialogue but for selective, spare use of it. Sometimes I think Duvall, who won an Oscar for "Tender Mercies" and had a small but important role in "Mockingbird," didn't say two words in "Mercies." But he's all the more effective for the silences.

As for "To Kill a Mockingbird," I know Harper Lee's novel came first. But I was re-reading the novel not long ago, and Foote shaped it marvelously for film. (Credit is also due to Robert Mulligan, who directed "To Kill a Mockingbird," and who died just last December.) I acknowledge the controversies that have attached themselves to the story in more recent years, but the movie still has its power.

And Foote did a tremendous amount of writing for the stage; one play I remember fondly is "1918," which was later televised, and is part of a large cycle of Foote plays. And there are some fine memoirs.

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