Inherit the Wind (1960) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Based on a real-life case in 1925, two great lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution.

  • Teacher B.T. Cates is arrested for teaching Darwin's theories. Famous lawyer Henry Drummond defends him; fundamentalist politician Matthew Brady prosecutes. This is a very thinly disguised rendition of the 1925 "Scopes monkey trial" with debates between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan taken largely from the transcripts.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Based on the famous Scopes Monkey trial of 1925 a Tennessee schoolteacher Bertram Cates (Dick York) is arrested for teaching his students Darwin's theory of evolution. The case receives national attention and one of the newspaper reporters, E.K. Hornbeck (played by Gene Kelly), arranges to bring in renowned defense attorney and atheist Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) to defend Cates. The prosecutor, Matthew Brady (played by Fredric March ) is a former presidential candidate and famous evangelist. The two are old adversaries and clash throughout the film. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Cates's girlfriend is the daughter of the town's bombastic preacher (Claude Akins).

    Throughout the movie, the sarcastic reporter mocks the bible toting hostile townsfolk. Drummond eventually calls the prosecutor to the stand and prods him to explain various biblical stories such as Jonah and the whale. Eventually, the great Biblical Literalist is forced to concede that certain Biblical accounts cannot be taken literally, but must be interpreted intellectually. With that concession, Drummond is able to assert Cates has every right to hold a differing opinion, including about the Book of Genesis and to deny him that right is unjust.

    Matthew Brady is so rattled by Drummond's questioning that he collapses under the strain. In the end, despite his badgering of Brady, Drummond is sympathetic to his beliefs. The judge (Henry Morgan) issues a $100.00 fine much to the dismay of many in the courtroom.

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