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Like Elmer Gantry I first saw Inherit the Wind in the theater in
Brooklyn when I was 13 years old. Both of those films dealt with issues
arising from the Roaring Twenties out of religion. At the time I
thought both were great dramatic pieces dealing with issues of the
past. I thought how much we'd grown up as a country from 1925 to 1960.
If you had told me that 46 years later we'd be fighting these same battles and that preachers had as much political power as they do I and many others would have said you were nuts. Yet here we are today in an age when Pat Robertson is taken as a serious political figure.
Inherit the Wind is a dramatization of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 when a biology teacher was arrested and challenged a law passed by the Tennessee State legislature making it a crime to teach anything other than the account of creation as set down in the Book of Genesis. Dick York is the biology teacher here, renamed Bertram Cates for the play and the film version of that play.
In fact all the names of the dramatis personae of the Scopes Trial have been changed to allow some creativity by the authors Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee. Spencer Tracy and Fredric March play fictionalizations of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan named Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady respectively.
Of course that is what Inherit the Wind is primarily known for, a duel of double Academy Award winners. In fact Spencer Tracy received another Academy Award nomination for this film, but lost to Burt Lancaster for Elmer Gantry. That's ironic to me because I thought March captured the essence of William Jennings Bryan better. Bryan is a man whose time has passed him by. But he's still a hero to the folks of small town rural America in the south and middle west. One thing to remember is that while Bryan was a great orator and advocate, he had not practiced law in over 30 years when he stepped into the courtroom for the trial. If he had been a better lawyer, he might not have fallen into the one big trap Tracy set for him and the trial and the attending publicity might have been better for his side.
As good as Tracy is, the year before in Compulsion I think that Orson Welles captured the real Clarence Darrow in his character of Jonathan Wilk. No one in Hollywood could do long take speeches quite like Spencer Tracy though. I'm sure that's why Director Stanley Kramer hired him and they developed quite the screen partnership with Tracy doing four of his last five screen roles for Kramer.
Stanley Kramer made some impeccable casting choices filling out the minor roles of the various townspeople of Hillsboro, Tennessee. There are two that I would single out. Claude Akins who usually played tough guys in various action films was astounding as the town preacher, the Reverend Jeremiah Brown. Sad to say there are still many like him out there. Akins's offbeat casting worked wonders, it turned out to be the high point of his screen career.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Noah Beery, Jr. who is a farmer and who's son was drowned some time before the events of the film. Beery is the town non-conformist, he refused to allow his son to be baptized and Akins has said the adolescent is in hell because of it.
In a key scene when Tracy draws the ire of Judge Harry Morgan who sentences him to jail for contempt of court, Beery offers to put up his farm for collateral for Tracy's bail. Tracy's about to quit the case, but that simple gesture gives him hope, in the ultimate decency and clearheadedness of ordinary people. It's my favorite scene in Inherit the Wind.
Stanley Kramer lived long enough to see this film become so relevant for today's times. I wonder what he must have thought.
We have been blessed with many, many wonderful films over the decades, and we have also been blessed with seeing many, many fine actors and actresses. Here you have a film, with a host of stars; brilliantly portraying characters from a true story, with acting that is sublime. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and each performance is gripping. Small town America, religious bigotry are all handled in a sympathetic manner by the use of powerful acting. I gave this film a 10 purely because it is one of those rare gems that stay in the mind forever. It is truly memorable, and one can watch it time and time again to marvel at the superb portrayals. There is a saying that they don't make 'em like they use to. No sir, they certainly don't!
After recently watching each remake of this film, one can easily
what an incredible film the 1960 version is. It is the perfectly made
and should be held up to all as the pinnacle of film making. It has the
perfect director and the perfect actors. It probably has the best
behind-the-scenes crew ever assembled including the perfect film editor.
choice of black and white is also perfect. This is one of those few gems
where every element of film making came together to make the perfect
The story is very thought provoking from both points of view, the evolutionist and the fundamental Christian. While I am not even close to being a Christian of any kind, I am haunted by the speech given by Matthew Harrison Brady that says how our children will turn into a godless mob with no direction without the teachings of the Bible (paraphrasing). But, isn't that what has happened some 80+ years after the story takes place? The actors effortlessly sell each character's point of view.
There is very little that can be said about Spencer Tracy, Frederick March and Gene Kelly that hasn't already been said. When you see the new version of this film, you can really understand why these actors are held in such high esteem. These guys are actors!
In short, this is one of the finest films ever made and should be seen by everyone.
This movie is well acted both March and Tracy perform remarkably. The story line depicts how ignorance and blind faith can generate a mob mentality. It beautifully reflects the social values of the time and depicts very well the attitudes of the time in which the movie was set. Like 12 angry men, it has simple sets and gives hope to the notion that not only can movies be educational and entertaining, there are producers that care about making a meaningful statement using a plot and acting to entertain.
I have recently seen this movie on t.v. and was highly impressed with direction, photography and of course the acting! Spencer Tracy is one of my all time greats along with Frederic March so imagine seeing them together! Some may thing March a little over the top but personally I find his performance one of the most riviting and engaging I have ever come across in film, he should have received an Oscar for this. Somehow although acting styles have become more naturalistic over the years the spark and energy given by the greats of the past is simply missing in the vast majority of modern performances. That God they are preserved on film.
People like to comment on this film's "overacting". Try watching any of Joan Crawford's movies from this period and then get back to me. Inherit the Wind is a totally compelling story of the traditional school of thought versus a new scientific one. It centers on a small southern town coming to terms with Darwinism and its implications on Christianity. Spencer Tracy is an eloquent defense lawyer fighting to let evolution stay in the public schools. The script is quite good. The court room exchanges are thought provoking and moving especially when one knows about the real people and events behind the story. It's very difficult to come up with a criticism here. Not a weak performance to be seen.
This movie is made by the performances. The material is very good, but at
time its a bit melodramatic and obvious, which is the way the play is. Were
it not for the collision of Spencer Tracy and Frederick March this would be
just an excellent Hollywood film instead of the classic that it
I would be tempted to say that all you need is a basic knowledge of the plot and the ability to jump straight to the court room scenes, but that would be unfair. Watch the movie once and then after that you can simply watch the fireworks.
What can I say about the battle between Tracy and March? Nothing. Words fail me. This is one of the great battles on screen in any film. It should be seen by anyone who wants to see how "easy" acting should appear. All the more important is the fact that this is a battle of ideas that still matter today as much as then. If only all of the world's problem could be debated this perfectly we'd live in a happier place.
See this movie.
The pleasure! Spencer Tracy and Frederic March going at each other. Masterfully spot on. As in most works of art, the passing of time adds to its relevance. Very much true in this case. Fanaticism without reason, such an everyday occurrence in our daily 2007 lives. There is nobody more deaf than the one who doesn't want to hear.Spencer Tracy personifies the truth, everything he utters is immediately believable. The cross examination of Frederic March is a classic on his own. The only discording notes are: the presence of Gene Kelly - very distracting indeed -and Claude Aikens in a way over the top performance. The way the trial is shot reminded me of the brilliant blocking of another Stanley Kramer film with Acting Giants And Relevant Themes "Judgement At Neuremberg" If you haven' seen "Inherit The Wind" do so, if you have, see it again and share the experience with your kids. I highly recommend it.
It's a rare American film that takes the grand clash of ideas as almost
its entire central subject matter, and Inherit The Wind has for that
reason alone for long been a personal favourite. It's also a film that
features some outstanding, larger than life acting, notably from the
leads, whether it is Tracy, playing the crusty liberal for whom "an
idea is more important than a monument" or the superb March, his
performance full of facial tics and movement, and whose fundamentalist
character does "not think about what I do not think about." Director
Kramer clearly places his sympathies in the former camp, although he
does not bludgeon the audience with preconceptions. In fact as a
filmmaker he had a reputation for making movies that held opinions and
took stands, with a particular weakness for courtroom scenarios.
Inherit The Wind came after the post-apocalyptic On The Beach, and just
before the sombre Judgement At Nuremberg (also with Tracy). In the
mid-1970s the director also made three 'judgement' films for TV based
on other real trials.
Whilst On The Beach offers a verdict of its own on humanity's military foolishness, and Judgement At Nuremberg is a just as sombre account of another judicial milestone of different significance, arguably Inherit The Wind falls neatly between the two in ways other than just the order of production. Like On The Beach, it makes its judgement too: not on a worldwide disaster visited by man upon himself, but on the perils of stifling free thought. And, as in Judgement At Nuremberg, it's a trial of ideas here too. But whereas the evil ideology of the Nazis ultimately brought millions to their deaths and stands condemned with its architects, it is enough in Hillsboro that "That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it... tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books... because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding." In fact Tracy and March, with Kelly's able help, hold the centre stage for so much of the time that despite their best efforts the supporting cast seem a little enervated. The romantic subplot between Cates and his girlfriend (ostracised by her father for straying into the wrong camp) is occasionally a little cloying and, upon reflection is too much of a reflection from the main event. More damagingly, the character of the Rev. Jeremiah Brown, as portrayed by a miscast Claude Akins, is so fervent and cold hearted in the cause of the righteous that it occasionally wonders too close to self parody. An improvement to historical events is made by the introduction of a, for the most part, even-handed trial Judge Mel. It is he who provides an anchor for the audience in court as the two heavy weights slug it over points of order and procedural objections. Judge Mel also provides one of the trials more memorable, quiet moments when, just as it did in the real case, he finds the increasingly frustrated Drummond in contempt of court - only to see the fine which he levies paid for by the parents of a drowned child condemned by the fundamentalist lobby.
In the light of today's religious debates in the US, Inherit The Wind seems braver than ever, and Tracy's character is allowed several hard hitting outbursts which, one wonders, would remain as so powerfully expressed if rewritten for a modern retelling. When he says, "I don't swear for the hell of it. Language is a poor enough means of communication. We've got to use all the words we've got. Besides, there are damn few words anybody understands" we all know what he means. And when he campaigns for a man to have the same right to think "as a sponge" it's a moment that remains starkly memorable. Curiously, a less emotional Darrow variant was essayed a year earlier by Orson Welles in Compulsion (1959), a version of another famous criminal trial. Inherit The Wind has been remade thrice more to good, but ultimately less memorable, effect (including once with Kirk Douglas) but the Kramer version remains ahead.
Dramatic variances aside, inevitably any presentation of the Scopes trial, and such controversial material as it contains, will never please everyone. The source play upon which Kramer's film is based simplifies matters a little too readily and other criticisms can be made: for instance the original textbook from which the schoolteacher was convicted of teaching illegally evidently contained an advocacy of racist policies and eugenics unacceptable today while it also accepted the notorious Piltdown forgery as genuine proof of a 'missing link' and so on. Again, the relationship between Bryan and Darrow was more complicated in real life than the film has time or care to show - although ultimately one is so caught up in the fairground of judicial combat as the case progresses that one forgives such accommodations with the truth.
Inherit The Wind stands badly in need of a decent special edition, a golden opportunity perhaps being offered by the widely followed 2005 debate that took place in Pennsylvania. The current disc offers little more than the film, although the widescreen presentation does justice to the splendid black-and-white cinematography of Ernest Laszlo, which effectively conveys the sweaty claustrophobia of small town, Bible-belt America. Whether or not the hesitation in bringing out such a potentially controversial, expanded package is a matter of intelligent design or just random selection, the public will have to judge for itself.
To see brilliant acting at by well-seasoned professionals at their very
or buy this great American film classic. Timing that is impeccable, nuance
subtle as could be, bravura declamations that are almost stunning in their
and intensity--this film has it all. It should be studied and analyzed by
serious actor in the profession. (It should also be studied and analyzed by
trial attorney as well!) Who'da thought that Fredric March's raging bull
personality could at times be so touching and tragic--or that Spencer Tracy's character should show such emotional and heartfelt depth when he is simply
grilling witnesses on the stand. The trial is the very heart of the movie--and yet it is supported by a wealth of early 20th century Americana--the fire-and- brimstone preacher, the look and feel of that hot Tennessee Summer, the
boistrous singing of "Gimme that Ole Time Religion" that makes the audience
want to join right in, these are all terrific details that add to the keen enjoyment of this film. But the trial's the thing. And it is riveting!
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