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Inherit the Wind

History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

"This statement by Karl Marx admirably serves two functions: (1) It describes the difference between the two times the teaching of Darwin's theories were put on trial in this country, in Tennessee in 1925 and in Pennsylvania in 2005; (2) Because it is from Karl Marx, it will automatically be rejected, along with the words to follow, by those who judge a statement not by its content but by its source. That is precisely the argument between Darwinism and creationism. Stanley Kramer's Inherit the Wind (1960) is a movie about a courtroom battle between those who believe the Bible is literally true and those who believe, as the Spencer Tracy character puts it, that 'an idea is a greater monument than a cathedral.' "

"The so-called Monkey Trial of 1925 put a young high school teacher named John T. Scopes on trial for violating a state law, passed the same year, prohibiting the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical account of divine creation. Darwin's theory of evolution was also therefore on trial. Two of the most famous lawyers and orators in the land contested the case. Scopes was defended by the legendary Clarence Darrow, and the prosecution was led by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Darrow's expenses were paid by the Baltimore Sun papers, home of the famed journalist H.L. Mencken, who covered the trial with many snorts and guffaws."

"In Kramer's film, Darrow becomes Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy), Bryan is Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March), Mencken is E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly), and Scopes is Bertram T. Cates (Dick York). Another major player is the gravel-voiced Harry Morgan, as the judge. So obviously were the characters based on their historical sources that the back of the DVD simply refers to them as 'Bryan' and 'Darrow,' as if their names had not been changed."

"Seen 46 years after its release but only a few months after Darwin was once again on trial in Dover, Penn., 'Inherit the Wind' is a film that rebukes the past when it might also have feared the future. Beliefs that seemed like ancient history to Kramer have had a surprising resiliency; two recent polls show that 38 percent of American teenagers believe 'God created humans pretty much in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so,' and 54 percent of American adults doubt that man evolved from earlier species. There is hardly a politician in the land with courage enough to state that they are wrong."

"I wonder if a film made today would have the nerve to question fundamentalism as bluntly as the Tracy character does. The beliefs he argues against have crept back into view as 'creationist science,' and it was the notion that this should be offered as an alternative to Darwinism that inspired the 2005 Pennsylvania case. In the movie and in the actual Scopes trial, Bryan was a persuasive orator who proudly defended fundamentalism; his 2005 counterparts carefully distanced themselves from religious advocacy and tried to make their case on the basis of 'creationist science.' Their presentation was so unpersuasive that Judge John E. Jones III (a Republican appointed by George W. Bush) not only ruled against them but added that they exhibited 'striking ignorance' and 'breathtaking inanity' and 'lied outright under oath.' "

"Strange, that 46 years after it was made and 81 years after the Scopes trial, it is "Inherit the Wind" among all of Kramer's films that seems most relevant and still generates controversy." ----- Roger Ebert


  • Widescreen
  • Available Subtitles: Spanish, French
  • Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)

Curator's Comments:
Read Roger Ebert's essay on this DVD Classic.

Director: Stanley Kramer Black & White
127 minutes
Released: 1960
Rated: PG

Country: U.S.A.
Language: English
Genre: Drama


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