Sunday, 16 September 2012

Review - Inherit the Wind (1960 - Dir. Stanley Kramer)

Based on the 1925 "monkey trial", not the one in Darlington which actually involved a real monkey but the one in Tennessee where teacher John T. Scopes was put on trial for teaching Darwinism. The real-life story has been fictionalised with events changed and new characters added to pep it up a smidge.

Bertram Cates is a school teacher who tells his class that humans are descendants of apes. The Christian fundamentalist townsfolk are not best pleased and bang him in the slammer. The case is prosecuted by the renowned Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) a failed presidential candidate and an expert on all things pertaining to the Bible. He's a bit of a guy and has some majorly crowd-pleasing witty quips up his sleeve. In fact he comes across more like Bob Monkhouse. If he'd been an attorney. Spencer Tracy plays Henry Drummond, Cates' defence lawyer. There is a certain level of antagonism between these two courtroom heavyweights so the stage is set for an interesting bout of legal fisticuffs.

The acting is fantastic throughout. Both leads perform admirably, but I was pleasantly surprised by Gene Kelly, playing an incredibly cynical newspaper reporter, who shows that he has more to offer than just fancy footwork. The other bonus cast member is Noah Beery (Rockford's dad in 'The Rockford Files'). His appearance was greeted with a little cheer in the evlkeith household. Sadly, he doesn't get much screen-time.

Most of the film is set in the courtroom that is more like the court of Judge Nutmeg at times (you expect 'The Wheel of Justice' to make at appearance at the climax), but it ventures out into the town on occasions. The scenes of Rev. Brown preaching are particularly worrying, especially the way he talks to his daughter, and the town quickly begins to resemble an angry mob. They perform a charming ditty that goes something like this: "We'll hang Bertram Cates from a sour apple tree... We'll hang Henry Drummond from a sour apple tree, Glory Glory Hallelujah! Our God is marching on." Harsh. They could have made themselves slight less unhinged by making it a sweet apple tree.

Inherit the Wind states the case for both sides of the argument but it seems to lean towards Darwinism in the way it portrays the fundamentalist population. Henry Drummond doesn't make a case for Darwin though, he fights for the right for Cates to think. As you'd expect, there is a moment where Drummond really ruffles Brady's feathers, and although satisfying, it's not up there with a similar moment in Anatomy of a Murder.

So it's a brilliantly acted, well-made film that prompts thought about this thorny issue. It didn't change my mind but I definitely revisited my opinions. Not bad for less than a fiver. Plus you can crack loads of gags about 'inheriting the wind'. Which is always a bonus.

If you like this you could also try:
12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder.


  1. I've heard of this being hailed a classic, never got around to watching. Court room dramas can be very well-done.

  2. I enjoyed it but as far as Court room dramas go I don't think Anatomy of a Murder (1959) can be beaten.

  3. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)...another to add to the list, thanks!