Anthony's Film Review
Inherit the Wind (1960)
A classic drama film that captures the essence of one of history's most fiery debates...
Inherit the Wind, a cinematic dramatization of the Scopes Monkey Trial, is not just great for home viewing. It's also an excellent choice for classroom viewing. I know this because I saw this movie twice in school. The first time was in a U.S. history class in high school. After discussing the Great Depression, it was time to go over creationism versus evolution through lectures and a showing of Inherit the Wind. The second time was similar. A history of science course I took in college explored the concept of evolution from Darwin's era and so forth. The same movie was played to supplement the lectures.
The movie is so good that if you wanted to learn about the Scopes Monkey Trial just from the movie, you might be able to do it. Just keep in mind the major factual changes. According to historical accounts, the main players of the trial were science teacher John Thomas Scopes, prosecuting attorney and creationism advocate William Jennings Bryan, and lawyer and evolution defender Clarence Darrow. The movie has changed the names of these characters, respectively, to Bertram T. Cates (played by Dick York), Matthew Harrison Brady (played by Fredric March), and Henry Drummond (played by Spencer Tracy). In addition, the film portrays the teacher as having a girlfriend, which was not confirmed to be so in real life (not to mention an entirely irrelevant subplot in the film).
Otherwise, the story of the film accurately begins with how the trial came about. The setting is a Tennessee town in 1925. Despite a law that forbade the teaching of evolution in place of Biblical teachings about divine creation, science teacher Cates goes on to talk to his students about the evolution of life from the simplest microorganisms to complex human beings. This enrages the local, highly religious community who consider this to be a terrible crime. Cates's only hope lies in the skills of defense attorney Drummond and the right to a (hopefully) fair trial.
However, Brady on the prosecuting side is equally fierce. From there, a heated and seemingly endless debate erupts in the courtroom. While Cates mostly lies back, Brady and Drummond make strong arguments for and against creationism and evolution in order to sway the court in their favor. Fredric March and Spencer Tracy do an incredible job playing characters who are relentless in their verbal tirades, essentially recreating the two-way tension that the actual judge and jury from the Scopes Trial must've felt while hearing the case. Director Stanley Kramer also deserves credit for making sure the drama is portrayed with maximum intensity.
The whole movie is nothing more than the lengthy trial and the brief events before and after, but that is all you need. The drama makes it all worthwhile to see. For me, I was captivated the first time I saw it and just as much the second time. I'm sure I would feel the same with the third viewing, fourth viewing, and so forth. It's especially interesting to see how the trial could be a landmark event despite continuing opposition by individuals hanging onto "old-time religion." The important thing is that the film captures the effort to provide a voice for people with non-mainstream beliefs. For this reason, Inherit the Wind is a classic worth watching. And if you're a history teacher with a lesson about creationism versus evolution, it would be a shame if you do not show this film to your students.
For more information about Inherit the Wind, visit the Internet Movie Database.