Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Movie Review: Inherit the Wind

United States, 1960
U.S. Release Date: November 1, 1960
Running Time: 2:07
Rated: PG (adult themes)
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Donna Anderson, Harry Morgan

Director: Stanley Kramer
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith (based on the 1950 play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee)
Music: Ernest Gold
Studio: MGM/United Artist Studios

The 1960 black-and-white drama entitled Inherit the Wind - based on the historic Scopes Monkey Trial - covers both the aspects of fundamentalism and atheistic evolution--the two religious extremes of the strict and the cynical. However, by observing these polar opposites in this well-paced picture, the doors are opened to what can be found in-between.

Inherit the Wind is a vivid dramatic production full of wisdom and exceptional acting, but in the grander look of things, it is an informative reenactment of a famous historical event that is plainly inaccurate and exaggerated—resulting in only a mildly above par overall picture. However, to defend the film, it is basically just a work of fiction, loosely based on a real-life ordeal, that skillfully allows literary license.

Inherit the Wind (a title taken from a line found in the Book of Proverbs) addresses the controversial topic of evolution being taught in public schools and how Charles Darwin’s theory challenges the fundamental teachings of the Book of Genesis. It recounts and recaps the 1925 trial of teacher John Scopes in his defensive attempt to free the school systems of the close-minded fundamentalists’ views of evolution and allow young individuals to freely learn the scientific subject matter.

Conversely, there are several differing elements to take into account that make this more of a theatrical-enhanced rendition rather than a historically honest account of actual events; Inherit the Wind’s factual basis is tweaked a little too much in order to meet Hollywood’s “picture-worthy” standards.

For starters, the movie’s characters’ names are all symbolic for the real Monkey Trial players’ (Bert Cates = John Scopes, Matthew Harrison Brady = William Jennings Bryant, Henry Drummond = Clarence Darrow, E. K. Hornbeck = H. L. Mencken, etc.). Also, the movie never speaks of the actual act and its details that Cates (Scopes) violated (the Butler Act). Furthermore, throughout the film, Cates (Scopes) is depicted as if he was shaking in his booties in fear of the serious threat of being locked up for quite some time. This is only shown to increase the tension and drama of the fate of the film’s protagonist; John Scopes was never in danger of facing serious jail time. In fact, Scopes was never even arrested; he actually volunteered to test the law in order to call attention to his hometown of Dayton, Tennessee. Scopes was also, in truth, a Math professor who only briefly substituted as a teacher of Biology and actually never even taught or spoke of evolution in any public school. There are countless other dissimilarities between the actuality and the production to spout off about, but none that you could not locate on your own with a little undemanding research.

Aside from all of the film’s nominal adaptations of the real life events, this film is a respectable representation of a 1960’s motion picture that contains two highly honorable portrayals of the duo of bickering attorneys, played by Spencer Tracy and Fredric Marsh. Both Tracy and Marsh feed off of each other so well while feuding, delivering absolutely brilliant and award-winning performances.

Inherit the Wind is certainly a film to see because of its strong dialogue and interesting content. However, I don’t mean to discourage any potential viewers by saying: once you see this movie, I certainly hope you will be in agreement with me, that this film has one of the most old-fashioned and almost unbearable soundtracks of all-time. The repetitious maddening mantra, “Gimme That Ole’ Time Religion” (sang by Leslie Uggams), contains such an annoying vibrato chorus and is so utterly bothersome from start to finish, that I would hate to hear Simon Cowell’s comments on this classic. Otherwise, Inherit the Wind is still a recommendable picture. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004