BR: Inherit the Wind (1960)

March 7, 2015 | By


InheritTheWind1960_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  December 9, 2014

Genre:  Drama

Synopsis: Loose dramatization of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial that pitted Creationists against Evolutionists in 1925 Tennessee.

Special Features:  Isolated Mono Music and Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




Stanley Kramer’s film version of Inherit the Wind may be a unique case in which a film not only eclipses the existence of original Broadway play upon which it’s based, but attempts to fill in some of the play’s factual omissions within Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee 1955 fictionalized version of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.

Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith’s screen adaptation still follows the same core stories of the play and the historical event in which a teacher is charged with breaking Tennessee law after teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in place of Creationism, but like the play, the names have been changed to distance the dramatically enhanced versions of the trial’s real-life participants.

The tale of a young man being ruthlessly persecuted by screeching political and theological conservatives also seems like the perfect metaphor for the thousands of creative forces whose theatre, TV, and film careers and personal lives were broken after being dragged in front of the HUAC bullies and branded communists during the 1940s and 1950s, but certainly in the film, the playwrights’ pokes at the Hollywood Blacklist are rather veiled; it seems that at least in Kramer’s movie, the drama is about transforming narrow, destructive laws in favour of progressive alternatives that don’t pay lip service to a select few.

In spite of the obvious courtroom head-butting between former friends / legal rivals Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March), Inherit isn’t a shrill moral play, because it seems playwrights Lawrence and Lee chose to goose their drama with a lot of dry humour,  mandating broad performances by the actors to handle acerbic, snappy dialogue evocative of vintage Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur (The Front Page). There may not be mile-a-minute streams of wisecracks, but the mouthfuls of double-edged prose uplifts the drama from something potentially dry and predictable to a battle of wits between an ideologue and an atheist; poor teacher Bertram T. Cates (Dick York) is really just a gangly schmo forced to watch the proceedings and step up when the judge renders a final decision.

A love interest in the form of the daughter of fiery local preacher Jeremiah Brown (Claude Akins) feels like a cinematic expansion, as does a forest rally in which the good Reverend fires up hatred among torch-bearing townspeople, but they’re clearly efforts by the screenwriters to open up the drama, give characters a few scenes of extra personal details, and break up the sometimes intense courtroom scenes. It’s a tactic Kramer also used in his film version of Abby Mann’s Judgment at Nuremberg, with a love interest given to the presiding judge, and some quiet exterior scenes acting as neutral buffer material before explosive, argumentative courtroom scenes.

To some extent, how the trial concludes doesn’t matter: Inherit’s about disintegrating friendships; the divisiveness of religion when its fails to evolve with changing social mores and scientific advancements; and how the media is often an exploitive, emotionally sterile monster.

The media as a whole is personified by journalist / wit E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly, clearly relishing playing a smiley-faced shit), who swoops into town to initially help the good teacher fight for his rights, but uses him as a pawn to sell headlines, neatly packaged for a live radio show that culminates in  absurd moments of feigned gravitas.

Inherit boasts a stellar cast of character actors, but the three leads actually blend in rather than stand out, largely because their dialogue often involves querying and awaiting some form of recognition or reaction from secondary and smaller characters. As much as one relishes Tracy’s taut and sometimes furious jabs as a gleeful March, omitting any side characters – including the preacher – would rob the film of its verve. It could be a little shorter, but the movie wouldn’t be as fun.

Among the more recognizable character actors are York (highly underrated, and whose acting career took a lethal hit when health forced him to bow out of TV’s Bewitched); Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H) as the good-natured judge; TV’s Noah Beery Jr. (The Rockford Files) and Norman Fell (Three’s Company), and Akins (Sheriff Lobo), who’s great as a fire-breathing preacher.

Tracy would re-team with Kramer in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), whereas Lawrence and Lee’s play would be filmed several times on TV: a 1965 production with Melvyn Douglas and Ed Begley (a veteran from the 1955 play); a 1988 teleplay with Jason Robards, Kirk Douglas, and Darren McGavin; and a 1999 version with Jack Lemmon, Beau Bridges, and George C. Scott reprising his role from a 1996 theatrical revival.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a really crisp transfer of the film, with Ernest Laszlo’s stark B&W cinematography evoking the summer heat that’s causing each person within the courtroom to sweat incessantly.

In addition to a theatrical trailer, TT’s BR adds an isolated mono music & effects track of Ernest Gold’s score and the film’s choral sequences. Julie Kirgo’s fine essay provides a compact overview of the film without marginalizing the real-life characters upon which the play and film were derived – teacher John Scopes, pro-Creationist William Jennings Bryan, ace crusading lawyer Clarence Darrow, and caustic wit & journalist H.L. Mencken – and she clarifies that Bryan wasn’t the occasional “nincompoop” that his cinematic equivalent Brady became, but a brilliant orator and a man with profound convictions.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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