Filmsite Movie Review
Inherit the Wind (1960)
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Background

Inherit the Wind (1960) portrays, in partly fictionalized form, the famous and dramatic courtroom "Monkey Trial" battle (in the sultry summer of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee) between two famous lawyers (Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan) who volunteered to heatedly argue both sides of the case (over 12 days, including two weekends).

Its story centers around the issue of evolution vs. creationism, in the prosecution of 24 year-old Dayton High School mathematics teacher and sports coach - and substitute science teacher - John T. Scopes for violating state law (the 1925 Butler Act) by teaching the Darwin's theory of evolution in a state-funded school. The film's title was taken from the Biblical book of Proverbs 11:29: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

[In fact, Scopes deliberately agreed to challenge the Tennessee legislature's statutes and become a "friendly" test case for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) by allegedly teaching theories that denied the Biblical story of the divine creation of man. Although Scopes was brilliantly defended by Darrow, Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 on July 21st. In 1927, Darrow and the ACLU appealed the case before the Tennessee Supreme Court, which invalidated the Dayton court decision on a minor technicality - the fine should have been set by the jury, not the judge, they ruled - and the case was dismissed without further appeal. Because the Butler Act was still on the books in the mid-1950s, on July 10, 1955, the ACLU formally requested that Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement initiate the repeal of that law. But the law remained on the books for over another decade. In 1968, the US Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that bans such as the Butler Act were unconstitutional, because they contravened the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, since their primary purpose was religious.]

An absorbing, liberal "message" film-maker Stanley Kramer both produced and directed the film that modified and slightly disguised the historical event by changing the names of the prototypical characters and making them fictional figures. His allegorical film was also designed as a protest against the repressive thinking of the 50s McCarthy era.

Much of the film's story (and dialogue), written into a screenplay by Nathan E. Douglas (Nedrick Young was the blacklisted screenwriter's real name) and Harold Jacob Smith, was based on the successful Broadway play (by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee) that opened in New York in April, 1955. Its stars were Paul Muni (as Henry Drummond), Ed Begley (as Matthew Harrison Brady), and a young Tony Randall (as E.K. Hornbeck). The film stars two major Oscar-winning giants and veterans of the cinema with remarkable career-high performances - Spencer Tracy and Fredric March - who had never before acted together in a film. The film was honored with four Academy Awards nominations, but won no Oscars: Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best B/W Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo) and Best Film Editing (Frederic Knudtson).

The film was remade three times on television, in 1965 (with Melvyn Douglas as Drummond, and Ed Begley as Brady), 1988 (with Jason Robards as Drummond, Kirk Douglas as Brady, and Darren McGavin as Hornbeck) and in 1999 (with Jack Lemmon as Drummond, George C. Scott as Brady, and Beau Bridges as Hornbeck).

The Story

The film opens with the soundtrack's ticking of the Hillsboro Court House's clock (as it approached 8 o'clock), followed by the ominous singing of the old-time gospel song Give Me That Old Time Religion, while the camera moves past a statue of Blind Justice.

Under the credits, the camera follows four solemn, stony-faced town officials as they march across town to the local high school, Hillsboro Consolidated School, into the classroom of a young, meek, but earnest southern high-school Biology teacher - Bertram T. Cates (Dick York) - in the fictional town of "Heavenly" Hillsboro, Tennessee. They place him under arrest - he has broken the state law against the teaching of the theory of evolution ("Darwin's Theory of the Descent of Man") and will soon be brought to trial in July of 1925.

The headlines of national newspapers announce the arrest:

Two eminent lawyers volunteer their services to battle the issues in the "Bible Belt" community within a stifling hot courtroom. A parade, marching band, and open chauffeured car welcome the celebratory arrival into town of bald, bow-tied Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) (with the singing of Give Me That Old Time Religion) - a silver-tongued, bombastic fundamentalist who will serve as the prosecuting "Rock of Ages" attorney.

Cynical Baltimore Herald news reporter E. K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly), whose paper has sponsored a defense attorney, is the only one in the town to welcome the celebrated, agnostic, libertarian Chicago attorney Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) upon his arrival on a bus: "Hello, Devil. Welcome to Hell." However, The bushy, white-haired Drummond, wearing a white hat, strides confidently into town carrying his own luggage, and accompanying Hornbeck to accommodations at the Mansion House.

One of its most famous lines is delivered by after being asked by white, tousled-haired Drummond how old he thinks a rock is:

I am more interested in the 'Rock of Ages' than I am in the age of rocks.

The high-minded Drummond also scores when he forces Brady to declare that only his particular interpretation of the Bible is correct - Drummond shouts out: "The Gospel according to Brady! God speaks to Brady, and Brady tells the world! Brady, Brady, Brady, Almighty!" Evangelical Brady loses his composure on the witness stand when grilled by Drummond - and blurts out, like a bumbling, mindless, stammering buffoon:

All of you know what I stand for - what I believe! I believe in the truth of the Book of Genesis! Exodus! Leviticus! Numbers! Deuteronomy! Joshua! Judges! Ruth! First Samuel! Second Samuel! First Kings! Second Kings! Isaiah! Jeremiah! Lamentations! Ezekiel! -

Reporter Hornbeck describes to Cates' conflicted sweetheart Rachel Brown (Donna Anderson), daughter of the town's minister Rev. Jeremiah Brown (Claude Akins), about his character and how he perceives himself as supportive of Cates:

I do hateful things for which people love me, and I do loveable things for which they hate me. I'm admired for my detestability. Now don't worry, Little Eva. I may be rancid butter, but I'm on your side of the bread.

Although Drummond technically loses the case when Cates is found guilty and fined a token fee of $100 (and an outraged Brady is stricken by a heart attack and faints in the hot courtroom during his final defense speech - he dies a few hours later) - the real victory is won by Drummond. The defense lawyer promptly rejects the small fine and calls for an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court. [Historically, Bryan died peacefully in his sleep after a heavy meal, five days after the trial ended.]

Alone in the final scene in the courtroom, Drummond sees copies of Darwin and the Bible on the bench. He holds Darwin's volume of Origin of Species in one hand, and the Bible in his other hand - thoughtfully weighing them and balancing them against each other in the air. He half-smiles, shrugs, claps them against each other, and then carries them together in one arm as he exits the courtroom, while an acappella voice (of Leslie Uggams) sings the stirring The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

End credits are missing from the film.