Inherit the Wind
Facts and Figures
Run time: 128 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 1st November 1960
Distributed by: MGM Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Stanley Kramer Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Inherit the Wind Movie Review
And so, for the historically uninterested, we find ourselves in a small town in 1925 Tennessee, where a highschool teacher named John Scopes (Dick York) has done the unthinkable: He has brought Darwin's theory of evolution into the classroom, casting doubt upon the literal interpretation of the Bible in the process. The state arrests him, and his trial became one of the first "celebrity" lawsuits ever. The prosecution was led by Fundamentalist and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (Fredric March). The defense (hired by the ACLU -- in the movie, by a Boston newspaper) was led by Clarence Darrow (Spencer Tracy), a wild agnostic and verteran lawyer, nearly 70 years old.
Needless to say, the town of Dayton, Tennessee became a circus when the trial began. Bryan quoted scripture. Darrow nearly screamed epithets at him. After eight days, the case came to a dramatic conclusion when Darrow called Bryan to the stand as an expert witness on the Bible. Although Bryan practically collapsed on the stand, Scopes was pronounced guilty and sentenced to a fine of $100. (The state Supreme Court dismissed the case a year later on a technicality over the sentencing.)
But the most dramatic part of Scope is the death of Bryan. In the movie, he dies right there in the courtroom. In reality, he died six days later after gorging his already obese self. And the only real weakness of Inherit the Wind is that it takes an already outrageous case and makes it even more outrageous. Court transcripts show that Bryan was far more composed during his examination about religion than he appears in the film. Gene Kelly's appearance as a newspaperman (here in a rare non-singing role) is total fantasy. Sure, movies stretch the truth, but you have to wonder why they did it in this one.
As a film, Inherit the Wind is well crafted and can entertain even the most jaded of modern audiences. But by and large, its historical accuracy is the movie's real strength. But like Scopes, I have to hope that its existence will foster more people to research the real trial to find out how it really went down.